Michelle Paulson: An extraordinary-ordinary hero

Michelle Paulson

Here at the height of the Christmas season, we’ve kicked it into overdrive. Since Thanksgiving, we’ve been decorating and organizing, gift-finding and wrapping, crafting and baking. House lights are up, stockings are hung, Christmas trees sparkle with magic, as if delivered by Santa himself. In the background we envision an appropriate accompaniment to our colossal efforts: the Boston Pops Orchestra’s playing of the “Hallelujah Chorus.”
And yet when we think there isn’t one millisecond to squeeze in one more thing, someone does. That someone is Michelle Murnin Paulson. And it’s a mighty big “thing” Michelle has squeezed into her family’s holiday season.
Flash back to a few years ago: Michelle was having a rough day. Nothing tragic, just a general unraveling. She and her family had recently moved to Gilroy. Her two older children were home from school, tired, crabby, with homework to finish. The two younger kids, twin boys, were less than 1-year-old. Michelle worked full time from home and was drained. Overwhelmed. Feeling like she was dropping the ball in her parenting skills.
Desperate and sobbing, she called a friend she hadn’t talked to in years and unloaded. Her friend listened and commiserated. A few days later, a simple wooden sign showed up on Michelle’s doorstep, a sign she keeps hanging in a prominent spot in her home: “We can do hard things.”
Her friend fessed up to bringing the sign, and with that gesture, a life-altering idea was born in the back of Michelle’s brain.
“We don’t stop enough and tell others how wonderful we think they are, that we are doing a good job,” Michelle said. “We need to recognize the good in other people.”
Michelle understood that, for many women, simply coping with life in general can be daunting—oftentimes because, being women, we expect perfection in ourselves.
So Michelle, along with a small but growing group she calls “a circle of women who care” have gathered together and are, in Michelle’s words, “shattering that perfection wall. We’re bringing it down. No more masks!”
Putting thoughts into action, in 2013 Michelle created the “25 Days of Holiday Cheer” and asked friends for nominations of women who were doing extraordinary things or who were quietly coping with exceptional challenges. Through fundraising efforts, Michelle gathered gifts for these 25 nominated women—gifts that were delivered every day of December until Christmas.
This year, since worthy nominees were flowing in, Michelle extended gift-giving through the end of December, including Christmas Day. This year’s theme is “All the best heroes are ordinary people who make themselves extraordinary.”
A wide range of women are nominees—single moms, moms of very sick children, moms battling life-threatening diseases, special needs teachers in the Morgan Hill and Gilroy Unified school districts. Women who are caregivers to spouses and parents—and this year, a 5-year old girl, Madelyn Bellon of San Jose, diagnosed at age 4 with psoriatic arthritis who works tirelessly at her tender age to raise awareness about Juvenile Arthritis.
Women who receive a gift live as far away as a newly-divorced mom of six kids in Utah who found herself having to get trained to go back to work for the first time since high school. Or local women like Gail Garduque who works at the Gilroy Post Office and personally answers every letter addressed to Santa that arrives at the post office there.
Michelle’s kitchen looks like Santa’s workshop right now. She personally wraps and makes a card for each woman receiving a gift. The card explains why the woman was nominated and who nominated her.
Next year, Michelle is thinking of opening up the 25 Days of Holiday Cheer to both genders.
“There are a lot of dads and grandfathers doing amazing things, too,” she said.
Her blog, “afourytaleblog.com,” keeps a running narrative of the gift recipients as the month progresses. (Her blog, a take-off on “a fairy tale,” came about from being mom to Ethan, 10, Dana, 8, and twins Colby and Zachary, age 4.) Check it out if you’d like to bear witness to a woman who knows the meaning of the holiday spirit.
Cue the “Hallelujah Chorus,” please.