I have a problem with giving and accepting gifts. The reason for that is because of a little game called Secret Santa. I was 8 years old when I first participated this terrible game of “who can do it better under 10 dollars”. I was excited about the person I had to give a gift to. Her name was Jacklyn. She was the prettiest and most popular girl in the class (and I drew her name!) and it became my mission to give her the best gift of the class. I put in a lot of thought into getting the gift of her dreams (under 10 dollars). I asked around to learn what Jacklyn liked. I even borrowed my money from my hardworking, single-parent, mother to provide the funds. She was hesitate but knew how important it was for me to do this. I wanted to be liked! (how vain, am I right?)
As much as I was looking forward to giving Jacklyn her gift, I was equally excited for the gift in return from my Secret Santa. My expectations were high especially when I remember when a student from class randomly approached me to ask “Hey… just out of curiosity, what do you like?” and I squealed “SPICE GIRLS!”. I knew that this messenger was here to ask me on behalf of my Secret Santa and I would get something cool like Spice Girls as my gift. The logic to me was, the better the gift I give, the better the gift I will receive in return!
The day arrived when we were about to exchange gifts. It was the last day before the holiday winter break. I ran up to Jacklyn, gave her her gift. It was beautiful, I thought. It was a gift bag filled with not only treats and goodies, but things an adolescent girl would like… like Smackers Lip Balm and scrunchies. I could tell Jacklyn was pleased. I anticipated for my gift. Was it a Spice Girl doll? Their latest EP album? what! What! wHaT? A tap on my shoulder. It’s Breanna. She’s my Secret Santa. She hands me her gift and says “Merry Christmas”. I look down at what’s handed to me. It’s a gift wrapped in an old newspaper. It’s not as pretty as I thought but hey! It’s not about the outside that counts. It’s the inside, right?! I slowly pull the newspaper wrapper back. It’s thick. One layer at a time, my anticipation grows. And immediately, I see what it’s front of me. A Hershey Bar. Not even a king size. It’s regular. I look up at Breanna. I’m holding back the tears. I give her my thanks. I go back to my seat. I look the students around me. Everyone has their gifts. They look happy and and all I have is one measly Hershey chocolate bar.
After school, I rush to get home. I drop everything. I cry screaming, “It’s NOT fair!”
My grandmother looks at me. She asks whats wrong. I don’t tell her why. I just throw a tantrum. What else was an 8 year old girl supposed to do? Explain her feelings? Yeah right.
In retrospect, I could’ve handled this situation a little better but the emotions were too big for me. I was hurt.How could Breanna do this to me? HOW?!
It wasn’t until later in my adult life when I realized where Breanna was coming from. She too came from a single parent family. She had siblings. Her mother had to work hard to put food on the table. A dollar was harder to come by for Breanna and her family. Her mother didn’t have the time to take Breanna shopping. The closest store to Breanna was 7-Eleven. She couldn’t keep up with the assignments in class because her home life didn’t allow her to. She had bought the Hersheys chocolate bar right before school started. She had to wake up an 1 hour earlier to walk to the 7-Eleven so she can make it to school on time. Chocolate was all she could afford. She grabbed the newspaper from a recycling bin, wrapped the bar, and it would be her gift.
I don’t blame Breanna. Maybe in the moment I did. But looking back, there was something larger at bay that we had no control of. The public school in an urban community is diverse. Students come from all over from different backgrounds. Students of different classes, ethnicity, and cultures are having to meet in the middle. When a teacher asks to find gifts under 10 dollars, that single dollar will mean differently to every student and every student will have different results from that single dollar. Some students will leave the district to high-achieving academia guaranteeing them to go an Ivy League school like Harvard or Yale while others will take longer to get to the school of their dreams as they resort to local community college, living at home, working several jobs, just to make that transfer happen.
I don’t know where Breanna is now. But I think about that day. I think about how selfish I was because of how little I knew. But I hope Breanna, and every little girl like Breanna knows that it’s the thought that counts and its been counted.