SUE ELLEN PABST: Make a Christmas merry

By Daily News • Last Updated 11:23 pm on Friday, December 16, 2011

Sue Ellen Pabst

The Michigan Governor’s Office has reported that more than 100,000 Michigan residents don’t have a place to call home. And that  “more than 50 percent of Michigan’s homeless population consists of families. The number of families affected by homelessness or at risk of having inadequate or unstable housing continues to grow.”

At 21, I was poor and a single mom with a young child. Christmas came and Santa delivered in his magical way, but a few days later my son, Gabe, was quiet and sullen. I asked, “What’s wrong?”

He looked at me with watery, brown eyes and asked, “Why does Santa love Jerome, and Christopher, and Stevie, and Rachel more than me? I thought I was a really good boy this year.”

He ticked off all the things he had done, trying hard to please Santa. “I brushed my teeth without you telling me. I said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ just like you said.” And then he sobbed. “I was really good.”

That was 25 years ago and I remember trying to reassure my son that he was the best boy ever. I told him Santa doesn’t play favorites.

“But mom,” he countered, “Jerome and all those guys got everything they asked for. They got even more than they asked for. I asked for Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots. Just that one thing. That’s all I wanted. But I got a Raggedy Andy doll. Mom, I tried to be good.”

I scooped my 4-year-old up and fought my own tears. “You’re right, Gabe, it isn’t fair. I’ll try to find out why this is. But know this — you are a very good and wonderful boy and I love you very much.”
I doubted it mattered much.

As promised, I wrote to Mrs. Claus, knowing that Santa was probably exhausted from his world travels. I asked why Santa seemed to favor some children and if they really were better behaved.

This was her answer: “It is our policy, known as the Claus clause, that we never give children gifts that their parent/s could not afford. Santa is only in their life, and secretly at that, for one day or night a year. We don’t want to embarrass parents. Because of this Claus clause, no child has ever stated they love Santa more than they love those they live with. Please tell Gabriel that Santa knows he has been a very good boy.”

I showed Gabe Mrs. Claus’ letter. He was silent again but when I asked what he was thinking about, he said, “I know I’m good, ’cause you tell me all the time.  I still wish I had that Rock ’em Sock ’em set, but it’s OK. I thought Santa didn’t know how good I was.”

And then he went on playing with the marbles Santa had brought.

Gabe slept for a week with that letter from Mrs. Claus under his pillow. And then one morning it was gone, disappearing into thin air like Santa and the reindeer.

I never had to live in a car, but I often think of that 4-year-old who does and is wondering why he wasn’t good enough to receive the gifts Santa gave others. Christmas gives us the chance to be Santa’s helpers.

Local banks collect Toys for Tots and support food drives and Angel Trees that let you select a child or family to gift. Nursing homes and hospitals need visitors — just ask at the service desk who might need company. Talk with your pastor to help a family in need. Ask your friends and family about a favorite organization. Call the local public school secretary — they do know everything — and ask to be put in touch with a family or child who could use a merrier Christmas.

And don’t remain anonymous. Receiving can be difficult and very humbling. Allow parents to show their gratitude. It may be hard but it could also prove to be the greatest gift you receive all year.

Sue Ellen Pabst is a licensed master social worker and outpatient mental health talk therapist with Transitions: Counseling Services in Greenville. She can be reached at (616) 754-9420 or on her website,

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