Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A New Holiday Tradition: Be Someone's Family

It's December. Where I live it is finally turning cold. Everyone is immersed in winter holidays: Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Christmas. As a child, I remember the joy of waking up on Christmas morning and rushing to the living room to see what Santa brought us. Then we spent time opening presents from our parents, grandparents, and extended family. Now with my own children, we follow the same tradition: Santa, breakfast, family gifts, then off to visit grandparents. Lots of presents are opened and lots of calories are consumed. On Christmas night, we tuck the kids into bed as they cling to their new shiny toys.

I am so blessed to have this as my normal holiday experience because so many others are not so blessed. According to the most recent numbers I was able to find, there are nearly 220,000 women in prison in the United States. Each of these women represents a different family who will be without their mom, sister, aunt, grandmother, or friend this year. According the the ACLU, more than 8.3 million children have at least one parent under correctional supervision.

There are on average 410,000 children in foster care every day in this country. Each one of them is away from their biological parents for various reasons, and many of them are not surrounded by the love and acceptance of family.

Nearly 15% of Americans lose a parent or sibling before the age of 20. I have at least a dozen students who have lost either a parent or a sibling due to different circumstances. This has frequently resulted in strained relationships with remaining family members and sometimes leads to substance abuse to cope with the loss.

I look at my two babies and think what would happen to them if I or their father was in prison? So many questions fill my head: Who would care for them and cuddle them to sleep? Who would take them to see Santa? Or wrap their presents and see the joy on their faces as they opened them in the morning? What if they were in foster care? What if one of us passed away? How would that affect them?

While I am busy buying new things, decorating the house, baking cookies, and taking the kids to see Christmas decorations this year, I want to add to our family traditions. I want us to brighten someone else's day. Whether that means buying new toys for Toys for Tots or donating our forgotten toys to the Salvation Army, I want my kids to learn that blessing other people is the best way to bring blessings on themselves. I want to feed someone who has no family to spend the season with or who might work on Christmas day. Perhaps we can take plates of food to convenience store employees, like my dad has done for years, or donate to our local food bank. My kids need to see the value in making sure everyone has a good meal to eat. And to learn to love everyone regardless of how they treat us. Even small gestures, such as saying something nice to someone on social media (that one is totally for me!), smiling at a stranger, or holding the door open for someone. Even though my kids are young, they absorb every experience. I want them to see beauty and love in the world and realize that we are all one big family. We've got to help take care of each other!

Happy holidays to each of you and your families!

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