Friday, December 10, 2010

The Best Night of My Life

Growing up as an only child, I had the best of both worlds: undivided attention and more toys than I could shake a stick at. The latter was a great thing to have, because we lived in a rural area and my parents, perpetual loners, were just fine with few-to-zero visitors.

Sure, I had friends at school, but at home I usually had to rely on the random He-Man, Ninja Turtle, or GI Joe for company. Oh, who am I kidding? Random? I practically had them all. I had a lot of stuff.

As an adolescent I retreated into my belongings even more. Ever afraid that my friends and family would discover and reject the real me, the gay me, I knew that I would always have my stuff...and the more I collected, the more I needed to collect. Toys, movies, books, stamps in my passport. Whatever.

Even as an adult, happy as I am with TJ and life in general, I still LOVE buying stuff. What can I say? Old habits die hard.

And Christmas? I love Christmas. Because at Christmas, not only do I get stuff, but I get to give stuff to other people, too!

When we lived in Orlando I would always make an effort to donate toys to one charity or another during the Christmas holidays, pat myself on the back for a job well done, and continue living my stuff-filled life of blissful ignorance. One year we had a Christmas party for all of our friends. In a moment of selflessness, I sent out invitations suggesting that, in lieu of a “Secret Santa” gift exchange, everyone bring a toy to donate to charity. Then my selfish stuff-needing nature kicked in, and I sent everyone a text message suggesting that it would still be cool to do “Secret Santa,” too. Stuff, stuff, stuff.

In fact, losing Christmas was the hardest part about converting to Judaism. Not because of any unresolved religious feelings. No, no, no. I was going to miss the tree, the presents, the lights, the presents, the songs, the presents, the food, and the presents. You know, the reason for the season.

On Wednesday, December 8th, 2010 the Consulate threw a Christmas party for a local orphanage, Casa Hogar Nacidos Para Triunfar, A.C. A toy drive was the first order of business, so of course my top priority was to buy stuff. I mean, how convenient was this? Here I am, a newly converted Jew craving a little taboo Christmas cheer, when an orphanage presents itself as the perfect excuse to do a little celebrating. I'm not completely selfish. I know that stuff makes other people happy, and I'm more thank willing to share.

God forgive me, I'm such an idiot.

They're orphans. They don't want toys. “Stuff” doesn't interest them. Santa himself barely registered on their radar. They crave love. Human contact. A warm meal.

TJ and I were the first to arrive, and we were immediately swarmed by the kids. They had no idea who we were and they didn't even care that my Spanish is worse than that of a six-month old. They just wanted to look, talk, and touch. As TJ held intelligent Spanish-language conversations with several kids, I awkwardly stood there and let a couple of them swing from my arm. They had fun, and I didn't have to embarrass myself by talking, so I think we all lucked out.

The rest of the evening's volunteers soon began to trickle in, and the evening kicked off with a little entertainment.

El Show de Mago Richard is a magic/comedy show with a little bit of puppetry thrown in for good measure. There were card tricks, disappearing/reappearing coloring book pages, and bottomless water pitchers. Richard brought along his puppet friends for a little end-of-show entertainment. He had a duck, a dog, a Mariachi man, and a Santa Claus. And the kids loved every minute of it. Well, most of them did, anyway...

This little guy loves ketchup. That's actually a cup full of ketchup he's drinking/eating. When the show started he took one look at me and jumped into my lap. He took an instant liking to my camera, so I let him try it out. He spent the entire show taking pictures of his shoes, the floor, and the backside of the other kids' heads. Any time he thought he took a good one, he'd smile and show it to me, then snuggle in closer. He spent so much time taking pictures of his feet, and I spent so much time making sure the camera was ok, that neither of us saw much of the show. But that's ok...I think we had a better time by ourselves, anyway.

He ditched me as soon as the show was over, but I didn't feel too terribly rejected. It was dinner time, after all, and I was hungry, too. One look at the 100+ kids shoveling chicken tenders and french fries into their mouths (courtesy of Outback Steakhouse), however, and I knew that I wouldn't be eating until I got home that evening. There were plenty of leftovers, but there was no way I could deny one of those kiddos a second helping. This was a treat for them. The orphanage recently lost it's biggest food supplier. Dinner usually consists of a donut. A donut.

While dinner was wrapping up, I helped bring the toys into the room for Santa's grand entrance. Suddenly, the part I had been most looking forward to was the least important thing in the world. Stuff was meaningless. Is meaningless.

This little fella latched onto me just as Santa Claus arrived. He didn't even notice. He just wanted to sit on my lap and sip his juice. I held him for about an hour. If I even tried to put him down, he'd burst into tears.

As limited as my Spanish is, it didn't matter. He wasn't old enough to speak much. But he understood a lot. For instance, I know that his juice was "muy delicioso," because I asked if it was, and he nodded.

He was the last to get a toy from Santa, and only then because I stood in line for him. It brought joy to my heart to see how horrified he was of Santa. What is a childhood without one good freak-out from ol' St. Nick? He got a Fisher Price toy that looks like a dog. You push it's tail and it barks. The mouth opens and a flashlight turns on.

Only, it didn't. The battery was dead. There was no bark to be heard, no light to be seen. But he didn't care. He was happy anyway. Not because he had a new toy, but because I took the time to show him how it was supposed to work. He wanted to walk the doggie, so I put him down. He walked the dog for a couple of feet before he lost interest, looked up at me, lifted his arms, and cried to be held some more.

If it had been me, I would have been ticked off that my toy didn't work. I mean, what kind of crap is that? But for him, it was all about the interaction. It's just stuff, after all.

He eventually fell asleep in my arms, and was put to bed by one of his caretakers. I didn't get to say goodbye, but it's probably for the best. If he started crying, I think I would have too.

TJ and I have talked about the possibility of adoption in the past, but it's something that has always seemed intangible. Unattainable. And would I really even want to? Do I have anything to offer to a child? I'm pretty selfish, after all. I'm not proud of it, but I own it. If we're being honest, and this is horrible, I've always secretly wondered if I am too selfish to love a child with which I share no biological connection.

After Wednesday night, I have an answer to all of those questions.

Yes, I want to adopt. I have all the love in the world to share. And screw biology. Adoption is the only path I would ever consider.

I'm not going to belittle anyone and pretend that I'm a better person now. I still like stuff. I'll always like stuff. Heck, I will probably always look for excuses to have a little Christmas cheer.

Despite that, I did leave the orphanage with a little bit of perspective. I know what's important, and I know what I want. And what I want isn't just stuff. Not anymore. I'd love to adopt one day.

In the meantime, the consulate makes bi-weekly visits to the orphanage. I look forward to it with immense happiness.

In closing, I just want to share a few photos that the kids took. They all loved the camera, and I let them hold onto it for most of the event.


  1. Great blog. I hope one day you do adopt a child or four. Think how interesting life would be and how much more stuff you would "need" to buy.

  2. Love the blog, had to comment on this one. You made me cry, damnit!

  3. This is my favorite post of yours yet. I think you're pretty fantastic and know that any kid would be lucky to have you and TJ raising him/her. I hope you continue volunteering at the orphanage...

  4. It's Friday and that means the weekly Blog Round-Up is here, and you're on it:

    If you'd like me to remove the link, let me know.

  5. what a beautiful post. thank you.

  6. Awesome post, you had me tearing up too.

  7. Beautiful, just beautiful. I worked for several years at an orphanage in South Africa, and your descriptions of children needing love and affection are spot on. Good luck with adoption; I hope to adopt as well farther down the road, a decision inspired in no small part by the above-mentioned experience. I hope you can continue volunteering at this orphanage - it sounds like a good match!