90: Every One a Favorite

90: Every One a Favorite

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

Every One a Favorite

When you have brought up kids, there are memories you store directly in your tear ducts.

~Robert Brault, www.robertbrault.com

When our girls were in nursery school, my sister Elaine called me a month before Christmas.

“Did you get the notice to send in an empty Jell-O box?” my sister asked me.

“Yes. What’s it for?” I asked. My sister had two other children who had already attended First Presbyterian nursery school where Maria, my first child, was now enrolled.

“I’m not telling you, but you’ll die when you see it,” she promised.

A month later, Maria came home from “The Bucket School,” as it’s affectionately known, because the children carry a decorated bucket instead of a backpack. She handed me a brown box. It was the Jell-O box. I knew this because it was the correct size and underneath one unevenly painted coat of brown paint I could faintly see the words “Jell-O” in big letters. A ragged rectangle was cut out of one side, a tissue lined the inside where a pack of powdered, cherry gelatin once was, and rolling around inside was a misshapen lump of clay which had hardened with the imprints of my daughter’s little fingers still visible.

“Oh, how cute.” I exclaimed.

Not wanting to ask what it was for fear her preschool ego would be insulted, I used my tried and true method of getting information. I dance around the issue without asking the real question: “What is it?” After a few questions around the edges, such as “Did you make it?” and “Is this painted with brown paint?” my daughter offered up the desired information. “It’s Baby Jesus, Mommy,” she squealed as she reached inside, carefully pulled out the lumpy piece of clay and gently placed it in my outstretched hand.

It was the first Christmas decoration made by my first child. At that moment, that lump of clay, that Baby Jesus nestled in Kleenex inside a cardboard dessert box, became my very favorite Christmas decoration.

Years later, I didn’t have to ask my sister what the Jell-O box was for. I called Elaine to tell her I had just sent in my empty box and was eagerly awaiting my second lump of clay. Sure enough, a short time later, my son Peter came home with the very same decoration. He proudly held out the brown painted box, trying with little fingers to retrieve the lumpy Baby Jesus from the corner of the box where He had rolled. I exclaimed, “Oh, it’s Baby Jesus.” The look on my son’s face told me how clever he thought I was to have guessed what it was without having to play the twenty questions game.

As I accepted another misshapen lump of clay, and carefully placed it on the tissue in the “manger,” I thought of my middle child, Joseph. The child who, because of his severe disability, could not attend the same nursery school as my other two children, and did not get to make a homemade Baby Jesus. I held back my tears, hugged my youngest child, and placed the decoration next to his sister’s homemade manger.

My sister and I still put our mini mangers in prominent spots each Christmas, and we still talk about how much we love to bring them out in December. Each year, when I carefully take out and unwrap each box, I have another fleeting moment of sadness that I only have two of them.

I also realize that I have other things, equally as precious: I have a picture of Joe in a homemade frame wearing his Santa Claus tie, looking so handsome seated in his wheelchair next to Santa, or seated at the “North Pole” wearing reindeer antlers and a cute smile. I have hand towels, mugs, and angels made with the imprint of his hands or feet and picture frames with glued-on glitter and sequins. Maybe his little hands couldn’t make these decorations on their own, but he was certainly smiling as his aide placed her hand over his hand to help him make these special memories. I can guarantee he felt as proud as my other two children felt when they made their crafts.

I decided years ago not to play favorites. As long as they were made by little hands, whether assisted or unassisted, they are each my very favorite Christmas decoration.

~Laura Guman Fabiani

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