Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In Conversation With...Zaine McEachern

First published in The Oxford Journal on December 5, 2012, by Sara Mattinson.

Santa Claus slipped into the Journal office a couple of weeks ago to tell me about someone he’d met during his first public appearance of the season. 
He pulled a large, clear freezer bag out of a plastic grocery bag and laid it on the counter. In the freezer bag were two twenty dollar bills, a whole whack of change and a note. 
The adult-written note said, “Dear Santa, I want to give you this money so you can give it to the people that need it. Love from Zaine. I’m always in the Christmas spirit!”
Naturally, I want to have a conversation with this boy. 
When the door of their central Amherst home opens, I am greeted by a huge dog and a small boy. Zaine and his Dane. 
We all settle onto the couch in the living room, Zaine next to his mother, the dog keeping an eye on me. I don’t know what’s more distracting: this giant dog or the giant grin on Zaine’s face. He’s only six but his smile is wide and genuine and happy.   
To put him at ease, I ask Zaine some simple questions about himself. His favourite Christmas movie is “Santa Paws” and his favourite song is “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” because he’s learning it for the concert at his school, West Highlands Elementary. Christmas is his favourite time of the year “because you get toys,” he says. 
I already know that Zaine and his mother, Kait Jardine, visited Santa twice on a Friday night in mid-November when he was at a store in the mall. But I want Zaine to tell me what happened after that. 
“At night, me and Mommy made a present for Santa that was money. In the morning, we gave it to him.”
It was his money, he says, pointing to the empty crayon piggy bank sitting on the counter. 
“Kids need money to buy presents. They don’t have money to get food. I heard that from my mom.” 
Kait hugs her son. They have the same smile. 
“When he went to visit Santa,” she explains, “I told Zaine that sometimes people don’t need toys, they need food because they don’t have any money. He thought it would be nice to give money to Santa because sometimes Santa takes it.”
She’s tried to instill in her son the importance of helping others. 
“I’ve tried to teach him that it’s good to give to other people, too. We get tiny stockings and ornaments and give them to the people at the hospital.”
Kait is an LPN working part-time at the hospital in Springhill. She works on the 2nd floor, restorative care, and sometimes brings her son with her to visit the patients. 
“I take him around to the rooms that are appropriate for him to visit and have a little chat. They think he’s very cute. He’s not shy at all, not usually.”
She shouldn’t have been surprised, then, that Zaine would want to give his money to Santa. 
“I was very proud that he would think of that,” says Kait. “I didn’t expect him to take his own money and give it away. He got the present ready Friday night and I figured he’d unwrap it and put it back in his piggy bank.”
Early Christmas surprise #1.
“After he gave Santa his present,” she continues, “Santa asked him if he wanted anything else and Zaine said no. That surprised me because he’s a kid and kids want stuff.”
Early Christmas surprise #2.

The whole time we’re sitting on the couch, Zaine appears to be vibrating, as if he has something he wants to tell me but I’m a stranger so he’s shy and holding back. His mother tries to encourage him (“He’s not usually shy,” she laughs). He goes to whisper in her ear but buries his face in her neck instead. The grin is still visible. 
“He’s had a rough go,” Zaine’s mother says. “He has only one eye that he can see out of so that’s been a struggle. He’s had glasses since he was six months old. He has a hard time at school because he has ADHD. He’s had a lot of things to deal with but, I don’t know, he’s just special. He’s a good kid.”
I ask Zaine where the money came from. All he says is, “I had it,” so his mother provides the rest of the details.
“Some of it’s from doing chores, some of it’s for being good like taking his pill when he’s supposed to. Some of it’s money from Grammy. When we got home from giving Santa his present, he said, ‘I’m going to do some chores so I can save up for next year’. He started sweeping up the dog food.”
This is the shortest conversation I’d ever had but one of the most enjoyable. I ask Zaine if there’s anything else he wants to tell me before the interview ends. 
“I like you,” is all he says. With that grin. This is the kid that keeps on giving.
What does Zaine want people to know about always being in the Christmas spirit?
“Help people by giving them your money.”
Leave it to a six-year-old to state the obvious: Share. Be in the Christmas spirit all year long. Help people. 
You might want to do what he says. This little boy with the big heart has a very big dog. 

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