I have a Christmas story to tell you, but it begins with a confession. For as much as I talk about this beautiful little town, I was really, really afraid to move here.
I am 36 years old, and I’ve spent most of my life feeling like I never quite fit in anywhere. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but at times it’s been lonely. I have many incredible friends, and I think in general people like me well enough, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that there is a difference between being liked and feeling like you belong. I’ve spent years feeling a little like I’m a bit of a “fringe friend”– there, but never quite in the inner circle.
That sense of belonging is what I’ve always wanted, because I really had it once. I had it growing up in South Porcupine. Not just with an incredible group of friends that I still treasure, but with a librarian who knew me so well she had book recommendations waiting for me each time I went in. I had it with teachers who had taught my siblings and knew my family. I had it in the network of parents and “second moms” who looked after all of us as we biked from house to house. I had it in the beautifully interwoven community of that little town.
My home was not just the house where we lived, it was with the people there. It’s a feeling… and you know it when you have it.
If you’ve spent any time in Northern Ontario, maybe you know what I mean… South Porcupine in the 90’s was a collection of great and interesting people who looked out for one another. I grew up feeling loved and supported by an entire community. I’m telling you, growing up in “South End” was pretty perfect.
I’ve been searching for that feeling of belonging since my family left the north almost twenty years ago. I’ve lived in five different cities… and 10 of them were in our last home. It took me a long time, but I felt like I was finally connecting there. For someone who shares her life on the internet, I have a really hard time actually letting people in.
We had our best friends down the street, and after many years, I had finally gotten to know some of the other families in the neighborhood. I had slowly built a community around me, and I loved it. It wasn’t South Porcupine, but I knew some really good people.
Leaving them and knowing I’d have to start over again was really nerve wracking for me… and I may have had a white night (or two) over it.
We bit the bullet and moved, a year ago last Friday. Almost immediately I knew this little town was special. I knew it when we drove in the first time, and it’s been proven to me again and again.
Two nights ago, it was proven again.
Our local events committee worked hard to put on a drive by parade that snaked through much of the town so the kids could still have a bit of Christmas magic and see Santa. The Mail Carriers even participated and offered to collect letters for Santa from children all along the route. S was late starting her letter, but worked hard and got it into an envelope just before the parade started.
In it, she wrote about how the past year has been a little hard for her. She wrote about how it’s hard to be the only girl in our home sometimes, and asked Santa if he could please send a girl Elf on the Shelf this year, as the elves we normally have in our home are both boys too. She poured her heart out to Santa, and it was both sweet and sad.
I think she is on the cusp of knowing the truth about Santa. She’s beginning to ask hard questions, and this could be the last year that she still believes with all her heart… so I wanted to make it special.
As soon as I read her letter, I began looking on-line for a girl elf. Long story short: Facebook marketplace was a bust, and a new elf would be $40 dollars + shipping with no guarantee it could be here in the right timeline I needed.
So, I turned to our community Facebook page. I briefly told the story about S’s letter, and asked if anyone local had one they no longer needed that they might be willing to sell. I wasn’t expecting much, but I figured it was worth a shot before beginning a hunt from store to store in person.
Within minutes responses started coming in. People offered suggestions for how to turn one of the boy elves I have into a girl, and one woman reached out and kindly offered to do a complete makeover for me, free of charge.
As I was chatting with her, I got a message request from someone I didn’t know. A woman reached out to tell me that she had the real “girl” Elf on the Shelf kit that her children no longer bothered with, and asked if I wanted it. Elated, I told her it was exactly what I was looking for and asked her how much she’d like for it.
She told me that there was no money required– she just wanted the elf to go to a new home, and hoped it would help make Christmas special for my daughter. We made plans to meet the following evening.
I drove to meet her in town, where she handed me a box that she had carefully reassembled to look brand new. I was so overwhelmed by her kindness and gushed about how much this would mean to S. She smiled warmly, and I swear for a minute it felt a little like a scene from a movie… one where Mrs. Claus takes on a disguise to help someone in need.
We only spoke for a minute, then we parted ways. I went back to my van to open the box, and I started to cry as I just felt so overwhelmed by this act of kindness from a complete stranger. I knew how much it would mean to S to have her wish granted by Santa.
And that meant everything to me.
So, I cried in my car and thought about this beautiful town and the incredible people here. People who look out for one another. Who support each other. A community of people who care and want to help, just because they can.
I’ve had some pretty incredible experiences here over the last year, but this one might be my favourite.
This morning my little girl woke up to find a girl elf on the tree, and she was positively glowing with excitement and happiness. For a kid who has had a hard year, it was everything.
I don’t know the librarians or all the teachers yet, and I’m still getting know the network of parents in our neighborhood… but that doesn’t matter. I’ll get there. Without even knowing them, I feel strangely connected to them, just by the experiences I’ve had already. This place just feels right.
For the first time in a long, long time, I finally feel like I’m where I belong.
So, to the woman who gave my daughter this incredible gift, and to everyone else who reached out to offer help (and really, to everyone in this beautiful town), thank you. Thank you a million times over.
Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for helping me feel like we are part of something bigger here.
I finally feel like I’m where I’m meant to be. Like I really belong here.
It’s not South Porcupine, but it feels pretty close.