Achtung Baby Or Christmas In A Shoebox

Achtung Baby Or Christmas In A Shoebox


Today I uttered words I swore I never would. They haunted me as a child, heard so often their meaning became numbed by repetition;

"You madam, have no idea how lucky you are"

They were the culmination of an afternoon of squabbles and probably unrealistic expectations on my part.

The previous day, this video, made me cry. I did so without excuse, restriction or embarrassment, the tears sourced from a mixture of compassion, shame and gratitude.

"Weihnachten im Schuhkarton" (Christmas in a Shoebox) is an operation active in many countries, but I was unaware of it's existence until last year. Keen to partake, I remember explaining simply to a then four-year-old Finje, what we were doing and why. She appeared to understand, was willing to help and did so with gusto.

This year was different.

I made our mission clear. We were buying gifts for children less fortunate than ourselves. A lengthy conversation detailed the plight of children from poorer countries. Finje seemed enthusiastic and I was looking forward to a philanthropic afternoon.

In fairness, we had to trudge round many shops due to the variety of items required. In the absence of anywhere vaguely resembling Tesco, one is forced in Germany, to shop around. Whilst Finje bravely accepted that the small mountain of sweets would never pass her lips, I could see her losing interest as we entered the fifth store. Every time she produced an item she wanted to put on her Christmas list, I repeated the mantra, that this day was not about her or what she wanted.

Overhearing a tardily disguised complaint of boredom, I lost my temper and Finje experienced the full force of my insecurities about raising an only child. Words like spoilt brat, disappointed, selfish, thoughtless and of course the aforementioned sentence, had her wailing within seconds.

Driving home I considered my outburst. How could a five-year-old who, whilst far from having wealthy parents, wants for nothing she really needs, realistically comprehend the concept of poverty? She hears the words but doesn't really understand. How could she?

That evening, I found Finje drawing a picture of her family to put in the shoebox. We had a chat:

"I'm sorry I shouted Finje."

"Mama, I'm sorry I kept thinking about myself and not the children who don't have toys"

A hug and all was well again.

Is it unreasonable to expect altruism from a five-year-old?