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St. Nick and the Batman socks

St. Nick and the Batman Socks

Old World Santa
Creative Commons License photo credit: frannie60

In Christmas 1981, Cincinnati Public Schools was involved in two class-action lawsuits. Our family was caught up in both of them.

The first concerned the right of Aaron, our then seven year old son, who had an IQ below fifty and the labels of autism and intellectual disability, to be able to attend public school instead of a segregated handicapped-only school, “with his own kind.”

The second lawsuit was about racial segregation and the development of “magnet schools” to bring together children of different races, socio-economic backgrounds, and learning styles. We voluntarily enrolled our youngest son, Tommy, age five, into Sands’ Montessori School in the inner city to promote desegregation.

While the lawyers thought the two cases were different, our family knew they were both about building an inclusive community, valuing diversity, and learning from each other.

One of our first lessons about diversity came on St. Nick’s Feastday, Dec. 6th.

In true German tradition, the evening before St. Nick’s Feastday, Tommy wrote letters to Santa for both himself and Aaron, tucked them inside their shoes and placed them outside their bedroom door.

The next morning, Tommy was thrilled to find St. Nick left a note asking him to help spread the spirit of Christmas, be nice to his mother (ah-hem), a couple of candy bars and a pair of Batman socks.

Tommy was always shy. But he was so excited to show off his Batman socks he strutted in front of the mirror, decided his pants covered too much of the socks, and tucked his pants legs inside his socks. Batman socks ruled!

I of course, thought this was darling, took pictures for his Kindergarten scrapbook and drove him to school thinking I was one terrific mom, er, St. Nick.

Tommy joined his class, and I was hanging out with the school secretaries when Tommy’s teacher called into the office asking me to come to the kindergarten room. Over the PA I could hear Tommy sobbing and the rest of the children clearly agitated.

It took a couple of minutes to sort out the details, but apparently Tommy had proudly shown his Batman socks at Show and Tell.

What he learned was no one else in the class had ever heard of St. Nick. And what was worse, St. Nick did not pick up anyone else’s note to Santa. So using sophisticated kindergarten logic, that meant no one–except Tommy–was going to get anything for Christmas.

Further, Tommy felt terrible he hadn’t told them about St. Nick. He reckoned this mess was all his fault. He was “not spreading Christmas cheer” as he had been told in St. Nick’s message, so Santa would be mad at him and not give him anything either.

Tommy’s tear-streaked face would have been bad enough, but he was curled under a desk in the corner with his bare feet hanging out. His Batman socks were inside-out in the garbage can.

Well, this was clearly a kindergarten disaster of monumental proportions. Tommy’s caring teacher and I exchanged those adult looks that said we were supposed to fix this. We settled the children.

I brought Tommy back into the circle, held him in my lap and reassured two other children who were sitting nearby.

Mr. Leedom read Marcia Brown’s story, Stone Soup.

Stone Soup

Stone SoupThe moral of the story is if we think in terms of “gifts” instead of “scarcity,” and if we see the unique beauty in our differences, customs and traditions, we will all have a richer life.

Community Building

After the teacher finished the story, I fumbled out a few words about our class being a community just like the people in the story.

Sometimes our family or religious traditions are not familiar to everyone. Just like each of the families in the story Stone Soup, our class was full of families that could contribute special stories and traditions to celebrate the holidays.

(Kindergartners are very generous in allowing grown-ups to tell stories to make themselves feel better.)

I told them St. Nick came to our house because we were of German descent. I asked if anyone else had other traditions around the holidays and one student told the story of Kwanzaa, another about Hanukkah. I reassured everyone they needed to talk with their families about their holiday traditions, but that if Santa brought them gifts last year, he would surely bring them gifts this year.

As I looked around the circle at these children I had come to love, it dawned on me this was not the all-white, German Catholic, middle-class community school in which I had grown up.

This was exactly the kind of learning experience we wished for our sons.

Intellectually, I knew this was why we chose this school. This sharing was the gift of diversity and inclusion.

But this was more. This experience was a transformational moment for me, Tommy and perhaps some of the students.

Community Building Mix

The next day I brought in the ingredients for our own version of Stone Soup“Building Community Snack Mix” and gave each of the students a Batman sticker.
For more information click on the community building mix.

Batman Socks Rule!

Tommy did get his Batman socks out of the garbage can. He wore them all kindergarten and into first grade until they were faded and had a hole in the heel. The Batman socks are part of his childhood legacy.

New St. Nick Traditions

Each year, for the last thirty years, we have placed the worn, torn Batman socks on our Christmas tree.

Now Tommy has a little girl of his own.

I want to wait a couple Christmases. But when our grandbaby goes to Kindergarten, the Batman socks are again going back to Tommy for his St. Nick’s Day present.

Hopefully, the story of “St. Nick and the Batman Socks” will become a cherished tradition to share with his daughter…and will continue to teach about diversity, community building and inclusion.


Do you have any St. Nick or holiday traditions that are unique to your family? Do you have any school memories about lessons in diversity, community building or inclusion? Do you have other ideas on how to build community during the holidays?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All the best, Mary

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34 Responses to “St. Nick and the Batman socks”

  • Tara says:

    Such a nice story! I know in my family, my mother makes fruit cake (which I abhor by the way, don’t tell her I said that) and though I am 20 years old, my father will still wrap my presents up and write “From Santa” for my sister and me. At my high school, there wasn’t much emphasis on creating community between diverse groups of people. I know being an Indian American, I kinda felt like an outsider. It wasn’t until I did Post-Secret in a class that taught about how to be a teacher did I realize what community really meant.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Hi Tara. Sounds like you have a great family.

      The Indian American “tribes” an example of a strong community. The tricky part now is about inclusion when the “tribe” is isolated and segregated, verses the “tribe” being a part of the bigger community. Churches, neighborhoods, nationalism– like the Olympics– still promote tribes and segregation. It’s a hard concept to understand and makes us all outsiders–voluntarily or unvoluntarily. Hope that makes sense. Your Post-Secret sounds like a meaningful lesson.

  • Gary Jordon says:

    Ooops didn’t do so good on the attempt to remember how to do the smiley.

  • Hoa Alfonzo says:

    I had once this friend, who had this strange talking manner. Whenever we went to visit his grandma, he used to talk to her “aye pre-mommy, how’d”. What she answered once, precisely describes my feelings about this site. She said “you are strange, but I love you”. 😉

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Glad you like the stories. Sometimes they are a little strange, but that’s okay.

    • Gary Jordon says:

      Hoa I mean no disrespect at all. But the quote “Aye pre-mommy, how’d” struck me as funny. But strange as your freinds expression was “pre-mommy” is acurate.

      Thank you very much the strange humor makes me feel good.(:

  • Great stuff, was a helpful info – thx!

  • Agatha Kopec says:

    You obviously know what you’re writing about. Good job.

  • Japan style says:

    Hehe, this one was good. Keep the level high!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      This story always makes me happy. Also makes me wonder where all these kids are now.

      • Gary Jordon says:

        Good question Where have all the kids gone? After all you are talking about some 30 years ago that this story took place. Also did the Stone Soup Story and meaning stick with them all these years? Have they hopefully passed it down to the next generation and beyond?

        I’m glad your own story brings you happiness. It can be quite a challenging tour as we gett older to find joy in our own stories.

  • 6 Weidera says:

    Amazing, how a different point of view can be amusing.

  • I look forward to looking at more of your work.

  • Gary Jordon says:

    I too would like to see the Batman Sock gone second generation. Oh I wouldn’t worry so much as it is very personal but not gossipy and besides with it we know just how thoroughly real you really are.:)

    Also I’m amazed at how much comment traffic you manage to get and its all good feedback to boot. Very Very Cool!!:)

  • A lovely story – please do blog when you give Tommy the Batman sock back – I’d love to know his reaction 🙂
    Nikki Pilkington recently posted..Internet Marketing Article – 27 Ways to Attract Fans to your Facebook Fan Page

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      I worry so much about sharing such personal stories. Thanks Nikki for making me feel it is okay. I’ll let you know what he says.

  • I’m a batman freak, so this caught my attention, but what a lovely post. What a well-written and wonderful post. I’m so glad you’re in the world, Mary.
    Chris Brogan… recently posted..Your Blog as Breakfast

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Chris, you are one of the most generous people I know. Thanks for stopping by.

      We decorated the tree yesterday and as soon as Tommy comes over, I’m going to have him pose with the Batman socks. They are really gray and stretched out–but they show they were worn with love. And “Holy Stockings”–literally, they endure.

  • Your great blog is definitely worth a read if anyone comes across it. Im lucky I did because now Ive got a whole new view of this. I didnt realise that this issue was so important and so universal. You definitely put it in perspective for me, thanks fo…

  • I absolutely adore reading your blog posts, the variety of writing is smashing.This blog as usual was educational, I have had to bookmark your site and subscribe to your feed in ifeed. Your theme looks lovely.

  • Gary Jordon says:

    Hi Mary. Allison is so right this is indeed a very cool story. Makes me kinda ashamed that so many of us Celts chose to forget our ancestral voices in order to deal with the very real terrorism of discrimination that was going on during 19th century.

    I hope that you indeed get to see your family tradition continue into the next generation. I am amazed at how you were such a strong advocate for inclusion. However I’m sort of puzzled if Tommy and Aaron are in their mid-thirties that’s means that the sort of inclusion we both would love to see didn’t even occur until the 80’s.

    One more point I couldn’t help but want to write that forcing inclusion is likely just as bad as forcing segregation. So we most likely need to have more of an educational approach to the notion.

    So have a great day. 🙂

    • In Disability World, in the 70s and 80s we talked about “integration” — we just wanted our children to be able to go to the same schools as other kids, just be allowed in the front door. Then there was “mainstreaming” where we begged our way into regular classes. I don’t think the word “inclusion” was used until the 90s. Remember ADA didn’t pass until 1990. So people with disabilities having civil rights is recent history.
      Mary E. Ulrich recently posted..St NickCommunity Building Batman socks

  • That’s a really cute story. My you have been at the forefront of social change. Isn’t it funny how these ‘diasasters’ cause us to dig deep as parents and generate great teaching moments.
    Alison Golden recently posted..William and Kate’s Royal Marriage Mystery

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