21.9.11

Maybe I AM a Hypocrite

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?

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10 comments:

  1. Wow, hard choice. Frugal me, I would end up squarely on the side of keeping those toys for younger kids and grandkids, but I would feel conflicted because I'd also want to honor my child's impulse.  I think I'd want to share my thought process with the child, to possibly help him understand my mixed feelings and my decision.  He'll be wading through complicated decisions some day too.  So maybe a discussion now would honor his feelings more than a mandate with no explanation...?

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  2. I am firmly on the side of keeping the toys.  For one thing, part of his argument is that these toys are HIS to do with as he pleases, and I think it's a worthwhile lesson to point out that ownership within a family doesn't quite work that way.  They are his, but that doesn't mean that he would have the right to destroy them, and in this case his ownership of the toys is inflected by the fact that they are also, in part, the property of his siblings.  When it comes to devoting time, money, etc. to charitable causes, it's worth recognizing that obligations to family not only can but in some cases must come first, and that gifts that involve other people should be made with the informed consent of those people.  Bam Bam is too young to consent to his brother's impulse to part with the toys that he would otherwise enjoy playing with as he grows. 

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  3. I agree with everything Mary & Bea have said.  

    Have you also considered compromising & letting him choose, say, 1 set of his legos to donate?  Then you're still honoring his impulse to give & share, but not short changing your other children in the process.   And explaining *why* you're hesitant to give all that stuff away is a great idea. 

    There's nothing wrong with wanting to keep a few things to pass down through your family.  God doesn't ask us to give every single physical comfort we have all the time.  One of my favorite saying, which I've heard preached by several different ministers, is that you can never get poor enough to help anyone else in need.  

    Giving away all your stuff isn't the answer to the world's problems.  God is the answer to the world's problems.  There are seasons to give & seasons to keep.   But in the end you have to decide to do based on whatever you & your husband's hearts tell you after you seek God's will on the issue.  

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  4. I would explain to him everything that you explained in this blog post, and I would keep the toys that will last for Bam Bam. Bea is right; property within a family doesn't quite work that way, and the toys do belong to all of you. If the toys are ones he was given as a gift, or are ones that he's purchased with his own money, then I say he should probably get the final say (with your approval, because he is a child and still needs parental guidance) on what to do with them.

    It wouldn't hurt to point out to him that giving them to his brother (in the future) is still giving them away to someone else. A gesture of generosity "counts" just as much, if not more, within one's own family as it does if it's towards a stranger in another country.

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  5. Whatever you decide, be proud that your son is a beautiful soul with a huge heart. You've done well.

    PS: I have boxes and boxes of Playmobil. Let me know when you are ready for them. Will ship them over. Serious.

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  6. Michelle2:39 PM

    With this level of maturity, it might be time to explain how charity works best when the gift and the recipient are well matched. In other words, it's better to send money to people in need living in places far away so they can buy what they need from local merchants -- bolstering the local economy. (This was the reason the American Red Cross prefers cash donations for a global crisis -- like the SE Asia tsunami a few years ago. Much more helpful to buy local flipflops from a local business than to ship donated high-heels from New York.)

    I don't know what Bridge of Hope is -- I'm guessing some place local to you -- but maybe a deeper discussion about how important it is to match the donation to the need would help here.

    What a wonderful boy you are raising.

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  7. Wanda8:53 PM

    I would explain to him that I am also learning things and  I am growing  as a parent. One of the things I had not thought of was this exact situation.  I am prepared to learn from this predicament that arose from a very general statement.

     I  would encourage him to give some of the lego to a child at Bridges of Hope.
    and by some I mean enough to build a nice project.  A generous child is a delight to have.

    Then I would explain that I  really do want to keep the garage for little brother as it was purchased as a  legacy item  and that the lego is more generic and replaceable by the time little brother is ready to play with it.

    I think it is important for kids to know that Parents do not have all the answers all of the time. This is a good time to talk about family needs and shared resources. 

    I think it is also important for kids to know that parents are not be backed into a corner and held hostage by the words.....You said so!....Which really is just a childs interpretation of basic words that may not actually match the parents intent.  Never  forget that you are the parent and your role is to teach and model behaviour that will prepare your child to enter the  adult world when the child leaves your sphere of influence.  Modeling a willingness to learn is not an admission of  wrongness on your part but rather a demonstration of  adaptability

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  8. Terryconnie7811:56 PM

    I think he should be able to give them away.  Bam Bam is too young to play with them now; he will have birthday and Christmas gifts to come. 
     
    I feel so strongly about this but I'm having a hard time putting my feelings and thoughts into words(I'm not a writer.). Matthew 17 - 19 sums it up.  The lesson of giving unselfishly and trusting in God to provide for your needs, wow!  We can all learn this lesson again and again.

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  9. Dearest Connie,

    This is exactly the kind of true thing I can count on you to say.

    Thank-you.

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  10. So what did you decide?

    My take: you didn't buy the cars solely for him, but to pass on to his brother, therefore they're not his to dispose of. If there's another teachable moment at work here, it's that not everything we possess is ours. Most of what we use in this life is merely on loan, but we get awfully attached to it anyhow. This might be a good time for your son to learn that letting go, even of what's "his," is not always his decision to make.

    Don't hold yourself hostage to a principle that you did not establish in this situation. Stay with your original intention and teach your boy to understand it; don't let yourself be swayed by incompletely-reasoned sentiment. There's more at stake than your older son's charitable impulses or economics. Imagine how BamBam will feel when he finds out his legacy toy was thoughtlessly donated to strangers by his brother, and Mom let it happen. Charity begins at home.

    As a general rule, I think that when a parent is not actually doing something unethical or immoral, it's better that their values take precedence over the child's.

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