"What do you want for Christmas, Ms. Wrigglesworth?”
This is a very popular question with third-graders. It’s a good question, one that has an infinite number of answers. A lot of people have asked me this before: my students, my mom, even Santa himself when I sat on his lap every year at the mall.
I remember being in elementary school and faced with the task of writing a letter to Santa that had the chance of being published in my hometown newspaper. I wrote:
|Angela Wrigglesworth, 28, of Houston, is a member of MDA’s National Task Force on Public Awareness and the 1997 recipient of the MDA Personal Achievement Award for Texas. She has spinal muscular atrophy type 2.|
Please bring me a cure for my disease so that I don’t have to be in a wheelchair anymore.
P.S. If you could also bring a pair of Guess jeans, that would be great.
Apparently, being specific gets your Santa letter top billing in a newspaper. I was certain that the Houston Chronicle would be delivered to the North Pole, and Santa would surely grant the first request he read.
However, there was no cure for SMA and no Guess jeans under our tree that year. Santa, being the smart man that he is, must’ve known that those name-brand jeans are just too hard to pull up when you get dressed sitting in a wheelchair.
As for the cure, well, maybe he’s still working on that one.
Regardless, for the rest of my Santa letter-writing days, I stuck with requests that were a little more reasonable.
So now, instead of carefully wrapped packages from the big guy, I get countless gifts from the little boys and girls who inhabit my third-grade classroom each year. Perfumes, figurines, dollar store treasures … you name it, I’ve gotten it.
So when the question “What do you want for Christmas, Ms. Wrigglesworth?” thoughtfully rolls off the tongue of a student, I appreciatively smile and respond, “Just a Christmas hug from you!”
Despite my simple request of quality versus quantity, I’m still overly blessed with a stockpile of gifts on that last school day before Christmas break. However, there’s always the one student who follows my directions exactly.
A few years back in my career, that student’s name was Tommy, or at least that’s what I’m going to call him for the purposes of telling my story.
Tommy was the child you heard about every year in the teachers’ lounge before he made it to your grade level. Almost in the same way you can see a storm brewing in the distance, the teachers on my team knew that eventually Tommy would blow through third grade with the same frenzied behavior he’d shown in his previous elementary school years.
Tommy, in my opinion, is the reason why educators should never listen to the things they hear in the teachers’ lounge, because hisvivacious conduct was a far cry from the terror rumors that had preceded his arrival in my classroom. I absolutely adored Tommy, and on the day before Christmas break, I understood how much I meant to him.
Tommy was always the last child out my door at the end of the day, and true to form, the two-week Christmas vacation ahead of him had no effect on his hesitancy to leave. He teasingly stuck his foot out of the classroom and grinned back at me with the words, “Don’t worry, Ms. Wrigglesworth, I didn’t forget your Christmas hug!”
“Oh good,” I said back to him. Tommy ran over, wrapped his arms around me, and squeezed tight.
Had he been like most egocentric 8-year-olds, he would’ve turned back around and run out the door without a second thought. But Tommy paused mid-hug, realizing that something was not quite right. He wasn’t being hugged back.
So, knowing that my muscles weren’t strong enough to return the kind gesture, Tommy reached out, grabbed my arms, and wrapped them around him for me. He wanted his teacher to be able to give him a hug, and it didn’t matter if he had to help me do it.
Had I been able to freeze this precious moment in time, I would have, but Christmas was coming, and Tommy put my arms carefully back down in their place. He smiled, unaware of the grace he’d just shown me, and excitedly said, “I’ll see you next year!” as he ran out for the bus. I was left in my classroom, tears streaming down my face, rejoicing in the beauty of the human spirit which, I discovered that day, can be found in each of us no matter how old or young or abled or disabled.
If I’d chosen to write Santa a letter that year, it would’ve sounded like this:
It seems you’ve been working on that cure for quite a while now. I hope you’re still making some progress. Until that time when I don’t have to use this wheelchair anymore, I’ve got another big request, probably equally as difficult, but important nonetheless.
If you’ve checked out your Good Boys and Girls list recently, you’ll probably find the name of one of my students, Tommy. He has a sense of compassion and sensitivity that I would like you to give to the rest of the world this Christmas.
You don’t have to wrap it up fancy or anything. Just sneak it under their trees or put it in their stockings, so come Christmas morning, this world will be a much better place. A place where people with disabilities can know that their needs will be met, their independence will be achieved, and their arms will be lifted for frequent hugs by the kind people who surround them.
P.S. I’ve learned my lesson with the jeans, but if you could throw in a pair of black leather boots, that would be great!