Christmas Card in May

The envelope was plastered with stickers, frogs upon neon smiley faces upon bears upon princesses upon Power Rangers upon ladybugs upon shiny hearts.

There were so many stickers that I couldn’t open the flap and instead ended up easing the contents of the envelope out the bottom of the envelope.

What greeted me was a gingerbread man in a Santa hat.

Needless to say, this was a bit of a surprise being that it’s May.

It made me giggle as I remembered the time my family celebrated Christmas in December AND April because my brother couldn’t come home from boot camp in December.  We did Christmas twice. Christmas in April included a Christmas tree, stockings, piles of wrapped presents, all the Christmas decorations and even Christmas carols from our old radio.

Yes, we were THAT family.

But back to the gingerbread card.  Based on the sheer amount of stickers on the envelope, I knew a pair of little hands had gone through a lot of work to make this card and slip it into my in basket without me noticing.  I didn’t discover the card until after school when I sat down at my horseshoe table and began to sort through the pile of papers.

I opened the envelope and grinned at the gingerbread man smiling back at me.  My smile deepened as I read the inside.

*The student’s name has been blocked for privacy purposes.

I love this little one deep down in all the corners of my heart.  I thought back to Fall days with this little one when she barely spoke a word of English and could only write the names of the people in her family.  Every day she’d stare at me with wide black eyes, drinking in the words I spoke and gulping down the books I read.

She began to read and write on her own.  Her notebook became a sacred space of stories and poem and drawings, drawings so precise and so bold with color that her classmates would often gather around her in amazement as she commanded her crayons in ways they couldn’t imagine.

Her stories were always pictures first followed by words.  I told her she was an illustrator/author.  She once asked me if I was an illustrator/author, too, and I told her that my mind thinks in words and that it was a gift to have a brain like hers that created such beautiful pictures.

When I opened her card, I looked for the picture.  I looked in the sticker encrusted envelope for an additional folded up paper crayoned with her work.  To my surprise, there wasn’t a picture, just the happy gingerbread man and those precious few words.

I stood the gingerbread man up on my chair at the front of the classroom so that I’d be sure to thank her at our morning meeting the next day.  The next day came and she entered the classroom hanging up her backpack that was almost as big as she is.  She took down her chair, placed her things on her desk and walked to the front of the room.  She saw her gingerbread card on my chair and gave him a tiny wave before taking her place on the carpet.  During our morning meeting, I thanked her for the card and stood it on the shelf next to my chair.

When snack recess came around, she hung around the classroom until all the others had gone out to play.  She sidled up to me and slipped her head underneath my arm.

“I liked my card very much,”  I said, bending down to her level and giving her a squeeze.

“It’s for Teacher Appreciation Day,” she said, stumbling over the word appreciation until she got it right.  “It’s the Gingerbread Baby,” she smiled.

“Oh, that’s one of my favorite books,” I winked at her.

“I know.  It’s my favorite book, too,” she said in her small voice.  I knew she loved that book because Gingerbread Baby had spent the better part of winter in her book box.

“I love the verbs Jan Brett uses in that book, don’t you?”

She nodded.  “But the best thing is the pictures she drew on the sides.”

“I can see why that would be your favorite part.  In fact I’m a little surprised that you didn’t draw a picture in the gingerbread man card..”

“Your brain thinks in words.”

I laughed, remembering our conversation from so many months ago.  “You’re right, it absolutely does.”

“It’s okay, Mrs. McCauley, a word brain is another kind of gift.”  She patted my head and bounced out to recess.

Teacher Appreciation Week came and went and I was appreciated with special lunches, gift cards and flowers.  But the gift that stands out most is the Christmas card, that gingerbread man penciled in with words from my little one, a thoughtful little girl who understands the beauty of minds that work differently and hearts that love the same.