Learning a lesson through a negative experience is not something that happens every day or even every month. Those A-HA moments are actually few and far between for me, thankfully. But today was one of those rare days that I was able to do just that while I volunteered at the school book fair.
One of the many children in line to buy books was a little girl holding a bag of pennies. When it was her turn to check out, she was holding a stack of books that I knew her plastic bag of pennies was not enough to cover. I asked if her mom would be coming in to help her buy books. The little girl said no and then explained to me that her mom was unable to come because she was working one of her four jobs. My heart sank. The girl selected five books, none of which she could afford with the $1.17 she brought in. I debated buying the books for her. One of the other volunteers helped her find books that she could purchase with the money she brought. She forced a smile as she bought her new book and left the checkout counter to joined her class in another section of the library. I thought the situation was handled with kindness because she did end up buying a book.
But then the snide remarks began from one of the volunteers. And another joined in poking fun of this little girl and her mom. I stood there speechless. That little girl was just trying to do what everyone else in her class was doing. She was grateful she was able to buy a book with the money she brought, even though she was disappointed she couldn’t get all the books she wanted. The other moms didn’t see that. They blamed the mom for not being there, for not sending ample money and just not doing enough. They don’t know this mom’s situation. Hell, I don’t know this mom’s situation other than what the little girl explained. But if her mom is truly working four jobs to provide for her family I’m guessing she is a committed mother doing the best she can to provide for her family with what they need.
But the snickering about the pennies continued…
I felt my face flush red. Are they unaware that their behavior is unacceptable, especially as an adult?
I finally responded, “I’m so glad she was able to find a book that she could buy on her own. That will mean a lot to her.” They shut up quickly and exchanged glances. Had I made them aware of their behavior? I hoped so. They dropped the topic and started chatting about their lives again.
I left shortly afterwards as my shift had ended. As I drove home tears of anger ran down my cheeks. How does someone crack jokes at the expense of a little girl with a bag of pennies and a heart full of hope? At this moment, I regretted not buying at least one of the books for her. I could have done that and slipped it to her quickly and quietly. I knew I needed to be the bigger person in situations like these and set a better example for my kids through my actions.
Then it hit me. I can be better. I decided to flip this around to a positive experience. It was a total A-Ha moment for me because I decided to turn the situation into a teaching moment for my children. I want them to learn to be grateful for what they have and also be sensitive to those that don’t have as much.
When the kids came home from school, I explained to them that today was a special afternoon. Each of them was going to get an opportunity pick out one toy for a child who may not get any other gifts this year. I explained that some kids aren’t as fortunate to have what they both need and want. Some parents work very hard to provide their family with things they need such as food, clothes and shelter. They don’t quite get the opportunity to always buy what they want.
We walked into the store with the sole purpose of buying three toys as gifts. My kids had a blast picking out what toys they would like to give away. My youngest picked a doctor kit because it’s her favorite toy. My oldest picked a Barbie because she loves playing with her Barbie. My son picked a pack of match box cars because they are really cool. We drove the toys immediately to the drop point for Toys for Tots. My kids excitedly put the gifts into the bin. They really were happy they could help another kid have a toy at Christmas.
I may not have helped the ladies I met today see the error of their ways, but I can help my children become aware of other’s life situations. I can teach my children to be kind and caring towards others, as well as to be grateful for their life full of opportunities. I hope this lesson will help them rise above those who aren’t quite as aware and grow into caring adult who make the right decisions and respect others.
How do you help others in need?