“You killed his Christmas present!” C-Batz said in a voice loud enough to warrant an exclamation point. She was holding the plastic container the stag beetle came in. I’d gotten my beetle for the Orphan Christmas Party about an hour earlier and, not thinking, put it in the shopping bag with the rest of the things I bought. Now there it was, on its back, looking like the trip back had done it in. I wondered if I could return it to the store and say I bought it that way.
“Maybe it’s not dead,” I said. “Open the case up and poke it.”
“I’m not touching it!” she said. “It’s disgusting.” C-Batz had bought her orphan a beetle also, but since she couldn’t make the Orphan Christmas Party, I would have to deliver both of the monstrosities. (For some background on the beetle/orphan situation, click here).
“Fine, give it to me,” I said. The beetle was big and ugly. I opened the container and, using the fat of my first finger, flipped it over. Its antlers poked me, sort of like if Rudolph got really angry and poked Santa’s belly…only Rudolph was a bug instead of a deer.
The beetle was alive. Christmas was saved.
Friday would be the Christmas party at my school. The school put up a Christmas tree and strung up lights. It was, in the seven years I’ve spent in education, the first time I’ve ever seen a Christmas tree in a school. And dang it – not gonna lie – it made me happy.
Do the kids here all celebrate Christmas? No, not even close. But one student, Peter, does, and he still believes in Santa Claus. My boss Leah told me this.
“I think it’s cute,” I replied, because Peter is still little enough to think Santa comes down the chimney of his apartment (?) and for that to be acceptable.
“No, he told me very sad story,” Leah said. “Last year, he said Santa gave June a present but not him.” June is Peter’s older brother and also attends our academy. Leah continued, “That means Peter’s parents gave June a present and didn’t give Peter anything. He said, ‘I wonder why Santa didn’t bring me a present. I must have been bad and cried too much last year.’”
Leah was right – it was pretty sad. To summarize, Peter’s parents stiffed him on a Christmas present, and instead of acknowledging that, Peter believes he was naughty and therefore Santa didn’t bring him anything. What will he think when he gets older? When will the denial stop?
“The other students said, ‘Peter, Santa is really Mom and Dad,’” Leah said. “They knew because they found receipt. Peter told them ‘no!’ He said, ‘I think it is Santa.’”
I saw Peter in the hallway later. It was before school started and I brought him into the classroom. I asked him about Christmas. The story checked out. Last year, Peter got nada. June got a robot.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I will write him a letter the night before and maybe he will read it and bring me present.”
“Okay,” I said. “Good luck. Have some candy.”
At the end of the day I saw June and asked him if Santa would bring him a present for Christmas.
“Yes,” June said. “I’m gonna get a cap.”
The orphanage I went to, in the northern part of Seoul, was big and marvelous, like a dream home if that term can be applied to orphanages. The man who ran the volunteer program had me stash the two beetles and their cages (which were more expensive than the beetles, leading me to believe that my life, if a monetary value was to be placed on it, is worth less than my rent) in the main office. He led me and the other volunteers into a big room where about fifty kids sat quietly, waiting politely. It bore no resemblance to my classroom at all. No one was screaming, or crying, or running around with a knife.
Two other volunteers and I were given dittos and colored paper, and we took a group of kids into a room to color and make snowflakes. Since I didn’t know how to make a snowflake (it’s actually quite hard…shut up!), I basically just sat in the back with the bratty kid and let him hit me while the others decorated the place. I always bond with the bratty kid; this one was funny and cool and when he wasn’t abusing me, we colored snowmen together.
Finally the time came to give out presents. I gave the two boys their stag beetles. Thankfully, they were happy and excited, not petrified and repulsed as I would have been. The boys let me sit with them and go through the contents of the case, like the jelly packets they’ll have to use to feed the beetles. When I was leaving, I saw one of the boys walking around the playground outside with his beetle. It was cute. Like they were new best friends. I pictured him pushing the beetle on the swing. Wee!
Sunday will be Christmas, and I’ll likely spend it getting drunk with my ex-pat friends. On the other side of the world, my little niece will open her presents, and my sister will feel like a mom, and my parents will feel old. Elsewhere, the two orphan boys will be feeding their beetles jelly and caring for them as anyone would care for any pet, no matter how cute or hideous it may be. Peter will hopefully wake to find that his letter to Santa worked, while June tries on his new cap. The Christmas tree will sit in our empty school. Everywhere, things will be a little more interesting, and life will be a little more wonderful.