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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Christmas in the Great Outdoors!

It wasn't my idea to have a Christmas in July party, but it happened. Imagine. Red house lights  blinking in the heat of the summer. Jingle Bells blaring from the stereo. A lamp post adorned with mistletoe and topped with a giant bow. Yes, and even a Christmas tree, tinsel and all, sitting in my driveway. Oh, and did I mention the reindeer? I'll get to that later.

I'm not exactly the social butterfly when it comes to neighborhood stuff. While I appreciate the occasional Bunko game or Tupperware party, I'm not one to initiate festivities. If you asked me to rate myself on the social spectrum, I may rate "plays well with others" but not much past that. Outside of my church and weekly Saturday morning coffee clutch with a few girlfriends, my social life has much to be desired.
When our church Care Group brought up the idea to have a Christmas in July party to get a jump start to support a local charity, I wanted to crawl under my chair. Since I was a group leader, I felt obligated to smile and say, "What a great idea!" Inwardly, I was thinking, How will our neighbors know that this is really going to a charity? What if they think we are con artists hording gifts for our own children?

I bounced the idea off of one of my best friends and told her my worries. Instead of affirming my fears, I heard, "Tamra, I think your overreacting."

Okay. I admit it. I have an overreacting problem. Like the time I was getting ready for a college sorority party and set the iron too hot and seared a hole in my favorite purple silk blouse. What did I do? I threw the singed iron away and swore to never iron again. I kept my favorite blouse with the triangular shaped hole hanging in my closet for weeks hoping I'd wake up and it would all have been a terrible dream. As for ironing, I've kept my promise.

And so we booked our children's pastor, Kelly Welhelmi, to put on a puppet show dressed in her outrageous character, Rudette, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer's sister. We printed off over 100 flyers and posted to every house on our cul-de-sac and surrounding blocks asking neighbors to bring an unwrapped gift. At the bottom of the flyer in bold face type was: All gifts will be distributed through our churches' children's outreach.

Well, a Texas heat wave had hit and my family and our church small group were sweating bullets the night of the party. We had fans blowing and chilled lemonade and enough watermelon to feed an army. A few members from our church small group mingled waiting to be swarmed by neighborhood children. My front yard was a sight to see with a Christmas tree in the driveway, house lights, and even mistletoe over the doorway entrance.

We waited. And waited. And waited some more. Where were my neighbors? I was embarrassed and was secretly hoping we'd printed the wrong date on the flyer. After forty-five minutes, my next-door-neighbor walked his nine-year-old daughter over to get a better look at the lady wearing a brown suit, antlers that dangled tinsel, and a glittery red nose. She placed an unwrapped My Little Pony toy and planted herself on our lawn. How could it be that only one child showed up?

And so I succumbed to my weakness. I overreacted.

I gave marching orders and sent my three children who at the time were, 5, 7, and 10 years, to knock on their friend's doors. I no longer cared about the gifts, I cared about saving face.

And that's when it hit me! Suddenly, I felt a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and wished I could undo the moment I'd agree to the party. I'd cared more about collecting gifts for children I didn't know...without taking the time to build relationships with the people on my own street.

As it turned out, my kids were able to round up their friends...and neighbors slowly began to show up. I'm pleased to say by the end of the evening we ended up with around thirty people.

Looking back, something far more important than collecting gifts happened. I got to know my neighbors. The man whose dog barks all night. The lady who is pregnant with her fifth child. The kids who cut through our yard on their way to school, carrying their skateboards. The young couple who recently adopted a two-year-old from Korea. And we learned their names.
Long after the watermelon had been eaten, and Rudette had gone to wherever Reindeer go in the summer, our band of neighbors were talking, laughing, and sharing stories. Without asking, a collection was taken and we raised enough money to buy gifts. By all accounts, my Christmas in July party was a success. Our party had a write up in the neighborhood section of our local newspaper and my Christmas in July story was published in our church's monthly newsletter.

This year as I make last minute touches on my classroom, I am reminded that at the end of the day learning and teaching are about relationships. By nature teachers are task-oriented and standards-driven and sometimes lose focus. I recently watched this Ted Talk video by Rita Peirson and was reminded of the importance of valuing relationships: with our learners, parents, co-workers, and our community. Teaching is not only about content. It's about loving people.

Rita Peirson on building relationships with out learners:

Confession Reflection:

1. Why is it important to begin the school year focusing on relationship building?
2. What are some ways educators can nurture relationships outside of the classroom? In the community?
3. How do educators build a classroom community that is emotionally safe and encourages learners to explore and take risks?

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