He makes me wonder these days if I'm a hypocrite. We're standing there in the dining room, his face flushed and his voice urgent, "But mom, didn't you say that there are kids who don't have any toys that would be happy to have these?"
For years I have fed this, unaware of this possibility. I give them 30 minutes to clean their room. I tell them that if they have more toys and clothes than they can manage to put away in 30 minutes they have too many, and anything still on the floor after that will be put in a bag and given away. I follow through.
They have given many, many toys to charity this way. (Or the trash can if they aren't worth re-gifting.)
He came out of his room with the wooden toy garage and the collection of cars. "I want to give these away mommy, maybe not to the orphanage because that many kids might fight over it but maybe a boy at Bridge of Hope would like it. And I want to give my Legos away too."
"I don't know," I say. "I always thought those toys would be passed on to Bam Bam. Those toys are the kind that are sturdy and last a long time. I bought them expecting to have them for all of you kids to play with."
"But the Legos are mine." he said, "They were my birthday presents. So I can give them away if I want to."
"Don't you want to give them to your baby brother?" I wonder, "He'll want to play with them in a year or two."
"No", he says, "I want to give them to a kid who doesn't have anything to play with."
"But then I'm going to end up spending more money to buy him toys in a few years instead of him just using these ones."
I'm not confident his motives are actually altruistic. I suspect that he is just trying to avoid having to clean up these toys anymore. It's not like they are his favorites. He's not making any deep personal sacrifices giving these away, not that I can see. I am the one who will miss them, and Bam Bam when he's got nothing left but hand me down My Little Ponies to play with.
"What if we just put them away in a box in the closet until he's old enough to play with them?"
This is when he calls me out, asks me if any of the words I say are true and if I mean them.
"But mom, didn't you say that there are kids who don't have any toys that would be happy to have these? I want to give these away to those kids!"
I fight back tears, but not for the reason you are imagining. I'm thinking of the belt tightening that I've needed to do the past few weeks, the season of straightened finances that we are in. I'm thinking of how much fun Bam Bam has when the Boy lets him into his room to play with the cars. I'm thinking of how I don't know how long it will be before we can afford to just buy a sturdy, high quality toy again, without scrimping and saving and scheming for it. Isn't it enough that I give every spare minute and dollar to The Charis Project and helping Thai orphans? Do I have to give up this too?
Some of it's self pity, you see.
But there's more to it than that. I wonder if it is in good enough condition to give as a gift when so many now want only brand new toys to give away. Will anyone love it as well as we have?
I remember buying that little garage, justifying the expense with the thought of how long it would last. It's the kind of toy I would keep for grandchildren to play with. I loved going to my grandparents house as a child and playing over and over with the sturdy toys they kept in their basement, the kind that 11 children and dozens of grandchildren couldn't break, with timeless appeal.
I had plans for that garage. I bought it with legacy in mind.
My impassioned 9 year old is making his case for why he should be permitted to give this thing away, tears forming in his eyes as well, as I look at him and wrestle with my own heart in this moment.
For there is a legacy forming here, a memory and a tradition, only it's leaping and racing far beyond my control and out of my comfort zone. I'm faced with the choice of what kind it will be?
Do I say no to this child who is asking me to demonstrate that my words are true by letting him bless someone else with his old toys, and hold on to my little plans for it? Or do I say yes to what is growing in him, beyond all my control, and no to myself and my little idea of what this family could be? What kind of legacy really matters anyway?
Well, now that I've put it in such terms the answer seems obvious, though I asked him to give me a while to think about it.
What would you do?