Angels on the Tree

the tree in our lobby

When my twin girls were in the nursery school at the YMCA, we received a small scholarship for having two enrolled at the same time —  it was something like $11,000 per child instead of $12,000.

We loved the Y. The girls had a great time going to school and learning to play. And we remain great friends with families from that class.

Around this time of year, the preschool staff put up a Christmas tree where you could pluck a paper angel off the tree and buy a present for a needy family. Feeling quite charitable, I went to pick an angel. And there hanging on a paper angel was my family’s name and the ages of my kids — for everyone to see. I grabbed the angel. I waltzed into the office.

“I don’t want anyone to think of us as needy,” I told S., the school director. I felt so ashamed. Seeing our name on the tree made me rethink my attitude towards my family and myself.

Me? I am the giver and the do-gooder, not the recipient of charity and generic toys. S. apologized. She said that all families that received scholarships were on the tree, but they would take those angels off.

So I remember this experience every year around this time. I felt shame when I was perceived as needy. And I don’t think most families are thrilled to be hanging on a Christmas tree. Sure, I would’ve gotten some free presents, and being cheap, that’s sort of appealing. But I would’ve had to pay with my pride. That’s expensive.

It was made worse because people knew us. I worried that if my angel stayed on the tree, we would become social pariahs. We would not be considered equal to other families. We would be helped, but we would be looked down upon.

One deadly sin in this society is to be a charity case. Families like ours have plenty of needs, but please don’t cross the line and consider us needy.

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