I am an Angel Mom

I'm sure you've seen, during the holidays, Christmas trees set up in stores and shopping centres. These trees are decorated with tags showing the first names and ages of children; charitably minded people can take a tag, buy a gift for the child named, and return it to the store for eventual anonymous distribution.

I've done that in the past; I like doing it, with one hesitation. The element of anonymity, while it may be virtuous, eliminates the chance for any sort of relationship with the child. Not only are relationships rewarding things, they allow one to meet the needs of the other person better.

I'll use this past Christmas with Cory as an example. Cory is five years old, and loves super heroes; when one asks him what he wants, he is likely to list off Power Rangers, Superman, Spiderman, and the like. I am not particularly fond of superhero toys; they tend to be rather limited and don't necessarily encourage development. Because I have some sort of relationship with the child, I know that he loves painting when he's in preschool. I asked his mother whether or not he had an easel at home, and was told he did not. Moreover, I was told, they live in a small town and cannot seem to find preschool-chubby paintbrushes and tempera paints for sale.

For Christmas, I wound up sending Cory an easel, five pounds of powdered tempera paint, and a half dozen chubby brushes. These are things that I was happy to offer because they encourage his creativity, fine-motor skills, and general development. The real question, of course, is how Cory reacted to art supplies that weren't covered with licenced characters, or indeed characters of any sort. When I called Christmas afternoon, I was told that Cory was quite cross with his mother because she had not yet assembled the easel so he could play with it. I would consider this a successful gift; I suspect he'll use it longer than he would play with another Power Rangers action figure.

The point is that if I had just taken a tag that said "Cory - 5 years old - wants Power Rangers" from a giving tree, I wouldn't have known that I could make the child just as happy or more so by giving him art supplies. This way, the grandparents or others who have no idea can get the easy licenced products, and I can know the kids well enough to make good guesses as to what sort of good-for-them gifts would thrill them.