Once, some years ago, this happened:

It was Christmas Eve. I was at church. One of my students was making her organ debut playing for the family service and I had come to hear her. Earlier in the month, I had had an operation on my left foot, and that night I was still hobbling around on crutches. I was making my way through the narthex when I felt a tug on my sleeve.

I turned to find a young boy of about seven or eight at my elbow. “Here,” he said, “this is for you.” And he handed me 15 cents.

It was Christmas Carol moment to be sure.

“Do you want me to have this?” I asked him, utterly stunned at his sweet generosity towards the lame and handicapped. (But what might this say about how I was dressed? Suddenly I was very insecure about my personal style.)

“Yes,” he answered. “Merry Christmas.” And he walked away.

Of course, I immediately limped to Matt’s office and told the story to everyone I could find. “See,” I said, “the kids are listening. They’re getting the message of charity and kindness and acting on it. Right here.”

“The blog posts keep writing themselves,” said Matt.

They do. Especially in December. All I have to do is pay attention and take notes. Case in point:

Tuesday, Julie came into her lesson just as Anthony was finishing playing his final piece for the day, a rowdy version of “Jingle Bells.” As he was leaving, slamming the door behind him, Julie turned to me, “Miss Amy, how come he got to play ‘Jingle Bells’ and I got stuck with ‘Away in a Manger’”?

Meanwhile, there’s seven-year-old Elizabeth, who got stuck with “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” She has been working diligently on Rudolph, which is somewhat rhythmically challenging for a little one. In fact, it has been rather touch-and-go pedagogically, which is the often the case when we tackle Christmas tunes. Often, I view the playing of Christmas music as an opportunity to introduce certain rhythms, knowing that for the beginners these might be more advanced than they are generally ready to take on. Oh well, I usually think, come January we can put these behind us until next December, no harm done one way or another. As far as Elizabeth goes, I suspect she has been picking out the tune more by ear than actually reading the rhythms, but last week she had appeared to turn a corner. I complimented her on her hard work. She interrupted, her little face screwed up in disgust, “I know, but I don’t like those ‘mess-ups’.”

I love a kid with a healthy respect for accurate performance practices and a general distaste for ‘mess-ups’ of all kinds. We could use more of this kind of thinking in the world. Thursday Kyle stopped in the middle of his eight-measure ditty and announced to me, “I am going to start over because that was just full of mistakes.” (He was right.)

But in a world where truth-telling has become as rare as reindeer sightings, let’s raise a glass to any kind of honest assessment and conversation. Apparently, in one of the kindergarten classes at a nearby elementary school there has been much concerned discussion about the existence of Santa Claus. I know this because I have a student in this class, Annette. For weeks, as she played her Christmas tunes for me, Annette would puzzle out loud about how Santa Claus was going to get into my house. “Is your fireplace real?” she asked one day. When I responded that it was a fake fireplace, she assured me that “Santa could use the front door.”

Just before Annette’s last lesson she had lost her first tooth. “How will the tooth fairy get in your house?” I asked her, wondering if while working out Santa’s escape routes she had considered the tooth fairy. It was clear by her expression that she had not. “Maybe she flies in the window,” she suggested, thereby closing the door of that mystery for another day.

And then there are the students with no doubts whatsoever, firm in their convictions about how the world should work. Such is Nicolle, who recently wrote her letter to Santa. In it she detailed the things she wanted from “the most wanted to the least wanted.” In addition, she put a star next to the things that are “optional, but wanted.” I love that: “optional, but wanted.” What a nice use of a comma, for one thing.

I could make a whole list of things that are “optional, but wanted.” Starting with teaching piano lessons without face masks and open windows and doors. I want more empty evenings with Matt and the cats and a bottle of wine. I want to eat in restaurants again. I’d love to meet my best friend at the neighborhood pub and sit next to the fireplace while we talk and solve all our problems over a drink. I’d like to go somewhere on vacation. Anywhere, really. Optional, yes, but wanted.

Instead, we are stuck with our little routines and traditions, trying to make merry in small, ordinary ways. We light our candles and plug in our Christmas lights. We reread A Christmas Carol and watch Miracle on 34th Street. We make soup and bake cookies and drink pot after pot of tea. Like we do every year in December, students are doing winter/holidays compositions. Last Wednesday I assigned Luke to do a composition about bells. To start his creative thinking process I asked him, “What happens when a bell rings?”

“An angel gets his wings,” he answered confidently, not missing a beat.

Ah, December. Actually, it’s enough to simply say, “Ah, life.” Just pay attention and take good notes. The blogs write themselves.



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