Friday, January 11, 2013

Ms. Santa I want a Bullet Proof Vest and a Doll

Christmas is my favorite time of the year. Last year, I skipped Thanksgiving. Totally. I put my Christmas decorations up the day after Halloween and got busy prepping for my eight week stint as my alter ego, Ms. Santa.

Yes, yes, yes say what you want about me but I love going to area schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. My Santa suit draws big smiles. And the stories I am told by the little ones stay with me throughout the New Year. Special requests for Ms. Santa are not usual. I have gotten calls to visit a returning wounded warrior, a visit to someone in poor spirits, or a patient in the hospital. My heart overflows with joy to accommodate every request. Finding gifts year round to take along with me is all part of the fun that comes with extending the Christmas spirit well beyond the holiday season.

As I was winding down the last two weeks of my school visits before children would leave for Christmas break, tragedy struck the Sandy Hook, Connecticut community. By now, we all know the horror that took place. I was dressing to visit a daycare and an after school program when I saw the breaking news. I stood transfixed in front of my television screen, as the first reports began breaking. Who? Why? My mind was racing with questions. Those questions were quickly replaced by prayers asking God to be with every family. I also prayed for our nation.

I refused to look at anymore coverage as I continued my Ms. Santa transformation. I was visiting children the same age of the children at Sandy Hook's Elementary School. What contrasting imagery; me preparing to visit schools to bring joy and fun was just the opposite of  the news coverage of a school that had been visited by evil. I physically shook my head to clear my head of anyone shooting babies. I needed to concentrate on bringing joy to the little ones who wanted my undivided attention while they shared their wish list with me.

The children I visited on that Friday were not aware of what was being discussed on every channel but their teachers were speaking in hush tones. My classes of students laughed and said oohs and aahs as they opened small gifts and took pictures. As they gathered around me to share their Christmas wishes, I hugged them tightly praying silently for their protection. 

That evening at home, I wept after hearing the death toll. I was filled with sadness. I remember calling my adult children, my dear little Alex, family, and friends just to hear their voices. "Life is so precious", I remember saying out loud over and over that weekend.

On Monday morning, I was determined I was going to bring Christmas cheer by the truckload with me on my visits as I put on one of my newly cleaned red suit. My first stop that morning was to a first grade classroom. I arrived to see happy faces ready to share their world with me. I barely got my cape off before one beautiful blue eyed pixie touched my arms to get my attention. As I settled into my chair, I reached to give her a hug. As she inspected my pearls and touched my bee pin, she hugged me back tightly. Sensing something was wrong, I said her name softly and asked what would she like for Christmas. She looked up at me and said without blinking, "I would like a bullet proof vest for me and a doll. Can I get a bullet proof vest for her too?" My body stiffen briefly as I was rendered speechless by her request. With this age group, I have learned to be quick on me feet with responses but her wish knocked the wind out of me.  My eyes were stinging from the tears that instantly welled in my eyes as she continued to talk about getting a bullet proof vest.

Company trying to meet demands for children bullet proof vests

I could feel the eyes of all the children on me at that moment waiting for my answer.  I lowered my eyes to fight back my tears. Buying time for my answer, I began to straighten her hair bows and complimented her on her colorful dress. Taking a deep breath, I finally responded, "Your doll will be as beautiful as you and I will make sure to speak to your mom and dad." My words were measured. Ms. Santa is mom also. I glanced at the teacher who was shedding tears. Our eyes locked for a few seconds as she turned to get Kleenex tissue for both of us. 

On the first school day after the Sandy Hook tragedy, one child after another talked more about being afraid of the "bad guy" than toys. Throughout the day babies weaved bullet proof vests, back packs that would protect them as they are running away, and can Ms. Santa beat a bad guy with a gun in with their talks about dolls, bikes, trucks and video game wishes. I managed to deflect some questions by wrapping them in my bright red cape, pulling a toy out or giving them a tight hug to comfort them. Children should not worry like this, I mused to myself.


The evil that visited Connecticut had left its mark on children in Middle Tennessee. No matter what area I was in, from Brentwood to North Nashville, the majority of the children I visited that week mentioned Sandy Hook to Ms. Santa. The events in Connecticut cut deep and wide. I worked overtime trying to bring them comfort and joy to ease their minds.

As I began packing away my Christmas suits and holiday decoration this week, I could not help but reflect on my numerous encounters as I waved to, smiled at, laughed with and hugged countless children. I loved every minute of my adventures.

However, I find myself becoming sad when I think of  the first graders who shared their fears with me. I am still troubled by their questions. As I write this post, I hope every one would look for sound solutions to address the violence that has gripped our nation. We can no longer wish for the best. We must find better solutions without feeding into fear and hype.

Our children are our future. Let us make sure they have one.

Photo Credits: Genma Holmes as Ms. Santa-Martin O'Connor
                         Bullet Proof Vests- John Vizicaino
                         Child and Christmas Decor-Genma Holmes

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