I stood in the lunch line the first day back from winter break. On my tip-toes, I craned my neck to see if my gang had arrived ahead of me. Maybe I could cut in. No such luck. As I looked behind me I spotted my chatty friends, acting as if they were the only ones on the face of the planet. They looked like walking WalMart ads in their new clothes.
Lunchtime in middle school had become the highlight of my day. It’s not that I hated school. Actually, I got straight A’s. It’s just that none of my best friends had any classes with me. I’m in band and they’re in choir. I’m in advanced Math and English classes, and they’re in…well, they just aren’t.
I grabbed my tray and milk and made a beeline to save our table. Not that anybody would sit there. Cherie would probably knock ‘em in the head if they tried.
The girls arrived, and for the first time ever, I felt like I didn’t exist.
“Shellie, did I tell you what I got for Christmas?” Emily grabbed my arm to get my attention.
“Christmas…man that seems so long ago.” I looked around at the masses, pure middle school mayhem. It sure seemed louder than usual.
Emily pushed up the sleeve of her obviously new sweater and displayed a chic looking watch. “Isn’t it the sweetest thing?”
“I got a new watch, too,” Cherie stuck her arm in the middle of the table to show everyone.
I munched halfheartedly on my corndog as I gave a polite nod, “Nice.”
Amber piped in her two cents worth as she whipped out her new purse, “I got a ton of new lip glosses and a new mp3.” She stopped suddenly like she had an epiphany, “And, oh my goodness, Daddy got us a new Wii game system.”
“Really?” the girls became excited about the hopes of a slumber party so they could play with Amber’s awesome Christmas toy.
I quietly ate my lunch while Amber tooted her horn, not to be undone by Cherie and Emily. I couldn’t wait for lunch to be over, so I could go work on Math problems. I knew how to solve those.
You see, I didn’t get much for Christmas. Mom and Dad did their best, but they only had a few dollars to spend on all four of us kids. I got socks, underwear, and a little bit of candy in my stocking.
After school, mom greeted me with graham crackers and milk. I climbed onto the stool at the counter and brushed aside the crumbs left by my little brother and sisters. Mom pulled the container of chocolate frosting out of the fridge and held up a butter knife. “Wanna indulge?” She teased.
I pointed to the sugary confection in her hand, “Can I just have a spoon and go at that instead of the graham crackers?”
“Bad day, huh?” Mom exchanged the knife for a spoon. She opened the lid and plunged the spoon in deep and sat it in front of me. She leaned her elbows on the counter and gave me her full attention.
I shoved a large mouthful of the yummy sweetness and tried to talk around it. “Mom, why do our Christmases always stink and Amber, Cherie, and Emily always have good ones?”
Mom grabbed her own spoon. She knew a chocolate indulgent duet was in order.
“All day long they wouldn’t shut up about their stupid presents.” Now I was openly angry.
What my mom said to me next changed me forever. “Shellie, take a close look at your friends. Amber’s parents are divorced and her daddy never spends time with her. He doesn’t ever attend her school concerts and basketball games. He’s always spoiling her with big gifts. That isn’t real love.”
I stuck another spoonful in my mouth, a smaller one this time.
“Cherie and Emily are foster kids. Kids whose parents abandoned them and let the state take care of them. They get presents from people that say, girl, age ten to twelve, on the tag. That isn’t because those people love them.” Mom paused, “Shellie, they don’t receive a lot of real love. Let them enjoy their moment and be ready to be the best friend ever when they need one. Show them real love.”
That day I learned that Christmas gifts come and go but my parents had real love, and real love lasts forever.
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