One of the best things about having three kids in elementary school is that I get to spend a lot of time as a fly on the wall. Some people call it “volunteering,” but I call it “pretending to work while I’m secretly spying on my children.”

I got to be part of a very special event at the school recently. It’s called Santa’s Workshop. Area crafters set up shop in the gym for the day, and each class, kindergarten through sixth grade, takes turns shopping for members of their families. Some kids bring money from home, but even those who show up empty-handed are given a few dollars to make a special purchase.

The big kids are pretty good at budgeting their money, but the little ones need a helping hand, so I got to play the part of an elf for a morning and assist in the shopping experience.

Let me tell you, there is a lot you can learn about a 5-year-old in 30 minutes. Some kids came in looking to buy something “for Pops, who’s in prison” or “my big brother, who doesn’t drink beer anymore.”

It’s heartbreaking and endearing all at once. Those kids love their people without judgment, and they want their people to have a Merry Christmas regardless of what else is going on in their complicated lives.

There was one little girl whom I was especially delighted to assist since her mom and I are friends. Her name is Zara, and she is a pint-sized Mary Poppins. She is equal parts playful and precocious, and to put her delightfulness right over the top, she speaks with a British accent. Her parents are from England and moved here eight years ago, before Zara was even born, but the little girl has picked up the amiable lilt from her mother.

Zara came prepared with a well-thought-out shopping list. Each member of her family was listed, along with something they might like to find under the tree. Unfortunately, our mission was side-tracked at the first table when Zara spotted a bracelet that was absolutely screaming her name.

“Oh! I love this! This would be perfect for me!” Zara exclaimed. I gently reminded her we should probably buy for the people on our list before we chose something for ourselves.

Zara was having none of that. In the most regal (yet squeaky) voice possible came this British declaration, “It is the exact colors I adore, and it’s my perfect size.” Then, turning to the woman running the booth, announced, “Yes, I’ll take it.”

I giggled to myself and had to grudgingly admit that it did look adorable on her.

After that, we settled into the serious business of finding treasures for her sisters. Zara chose matching coin purses and then pondered which sister would like which pattern the best. After making that difficult decision, we moved on to a gift for her father. That one was easy. Zara picked up a bag of chocolates and said, “He loves sweets.”

Zara found one or two more things to tuck under the tree for herself, then we headed over to the bagging station to wrap the presents.

She had just pulled out the last gift when I made a terrible realization. Zara was out of money and we had forgotten to buy something for her mother. Her mother, who is my friend, whom I should have most definitely remembered. Yikes!

I was just about ready to run to the car for my purse when Zara pulled the most selfless act of kindness I have seen in a long time.

As I explained we had neglected her mom, she paused, looked me deep in the eyes, and then said almost dismissively, “No we didn’t! I got her this bracelet, remember?” And she took the coveted bracelet off her wrist and handed it to me. I set it gently on the tissue paper and began wrapping.

Zara may have loved that bracelet, but it could never compare to the love she has for her mum. In one small moment, I was reminded by a kindergartner that it really is better to give than to receive.

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Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at