The Color of Christmas Joy
By Julie Ann Miller
My childhood memories of kindergarten consist of several things: cold concrete walls, little coats and boots, pencils which didn't fit in the hand, lined paper, desks, a blackboard and the alphabet in black and white.
Recess only meant that I had to be outside, dressed in coat and hat. Aimlessly, I circled the school grounds while children around me played.
Years later, my mother told me that she went to my teacher with the question, "Tell me what is going on at school? My daughter was a happy kid, until I sent her to school. She's depressed and I don't know why."
The teacher was as dumbfounded as my mother. She said that I seemed well enough at school. Perhaps the child is tired? Does she eat well? Does she sleep?
Maybe the truth lay somewhere in between. My bedroom always seemed chilled and silent until mother stepped through the door. The warmth of her smile lit into my heart. She would sit on my bed and kiss me goodnight. Long after her goodnight kiss, I would lie awake, staring at the ceiling as I hugged my doll. If only the morning would come and I could be somewhere other than school! What had I said to mother, so many times, when she'd asked me? "They don't like me." It was all I knew. It was all I could understand.
The winter turned colder as Christmas approached. A week of school still remained before the holiday break. I awoke one morning to my mother's voice. Through blurry eyes I looked up at her. She was telling me to get dressed. Pulling my clothes on, I looked out the window. How could it be time to go to school? The sky was still dark. I stared down at the fresh layers of snow covering our lawn.
"You don't have to go to school today," mother announced as she tied the hat strings under my chin. "You're going to see Santa today." My heart leaped with joy at her words! This day belonged to my mother and me!
We took the morning train to Detroit. I stood at the window of the train, drinking in every sight. Christmas lights, brightly decorated wreaths swaying in the wind and street lamps glittered under the half light of the morning sky. Mother sat beside me, her hand against my back, as the train chugged down the track.
Whenever I hear the expression, "seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child," I remember that day. As mother led me into the J.L. Hudson store, the world transformed to my size; like magic seeds which sprouted and grew a dream into a reality, a place of make-believe suddenly was there before my eyes. I could touch my hand to anything I could see. It was all there, within my reach: every decoration, every toy and every colorful, delicious looking piece of candy. Christmas songs filled the air and many of the movable toys seemed to bounce in time with the music. Children rushed past me in all directions. Some ran to the toy trains, some to the Christmas trees from which dangled candy canes, while others rushed to the red playhouse. Outside of that house, sat Santa Claus. "Ho! Ho! Ho!" he called out. With a white gloved hand, he beckoned me. The delightful sound of sleigh bells was in the air, accompanied by Santa's hearty laugh. He called out to his reindeer, proudly lined up and there waiting at his side. With my heart at the bursting point, I turned to look at my mother. She stood outside of the room, looking in. I wanted her to share this experience. I wanted her to get a look at me as I wandered joyfully through this children's wonderland.
As summer arrived, the school year drew to a close. Books were packed up and desks emptied out. As the silence closed in around the schoolyard, my mother, once again, came to see my teacher. The teacher sat before my mother sobbing; words were difficult, but she tried to explain. "I didn't want to work. I never wanted to teach. I was forced into it. I singled your daughter out and took the frustration out on her."
When I grew up, I came to understand that the human heart has its limits when it comes to harsh disappointment. As adults, we don't always respond in the way we might hope.
What I took from that year though was not the misfortune of an unsettling beginning, but the gift of a single beautiful day.