As the gift-getting mentality becomes ever more prevalent in our society, my husband and I have been taking steps to intentionally cultivate a spirit of gift-giving and sharing in our son.
Besides a more well-known favorite, The Giving Tree (*), one of Toby’s favorite books that illustrates what it means to share and give is one I received as a child: The Mouse in the Manger (*). It’s about Oscar, a young mouse who runs away from home because he wants a bigger bed of straw; he ultimately gives away his entire pile of straw and learns how freeing it can be to give unreservedly.
I have always loved the story, and it makes me happy to know that our son has fallen in love with Oscar’s story too. And, what is more, I know that he has taken the story to heart…Toby’s actions have made that much clear. We have been blessed with an abundance of clothing and toys, both as hand-me-downs from older cousins and as gifts from loved ones. Throughout the year, we will typically make a couple trips each month to donate well-loved items from our house that we no longer need (it’s amazing how much extra stuff has accumulated in just seven years of living in our house). But we wanted to make sure to carry this habit of “blessing others” with our unused things into the holidays. To that end, last year, we helped Toby pick out one or two toys of his own to give away to kids who had none. The concept was a little beyond a two year old, perhaps, but we repeated the tradition again this year, and I was amazed at Toby’s thoughtfulness and generosity.
One day, as we were playing on the floor amidst the clutter of loved toys in our well-stocked playroom, I started talking with Toby about our tradition of giving to those in need.
I wasn’t expecting him to choose toys then and there, merely suggesting he think about which toys he might like to give to the kids who don’t have any toys at all to play with this Christmas. Immediately, Toby went and picked out his Hello Kitty house, found the car that went with it and parked it in the garage, and then said “now they will have toys.” I was pretty much dumbstruck.
Here I was, trying to mentally put myself at peace with giving away this awesome toy repurposed from my childhood, while my son was willing to part freely with it — and the car.
My heart melted, because I knew Toby understood what we’d been trying to teach him. I told him “that’s so sweet, are there any others you’d like to give?” Over the next few minutes, Toby picked out several other toys, including a fire engine and its driver, a plane book (that one was tough for him), and a few other things I can’t recall at the moment. Oh yes, the motorized Thomas train engines (parent confession here, we haven’t been able to reconcile ourselves to giving those engines away just yet).
Today, we were playing with toys again, and Toby picked out one of his favorite construction vehicle puzzles, took it to the corner where we had previously piled the toys to be given away, and said happily, “now they have toys …will be happy It’s a construction site… they will [inserts a happy scream] lke that and be happy! They have toys now, yeah! [nodding emphatically]”
What a sweet lesson. Our son gave, not his least favorite puzzle, but one he loved because he knew it would make another kid as happy to play with it as he has been. He didn’t pick a junky broken thing, but something valued. He gave it to make others happy. Now the challenge is for me to let go of my need to control what my child chooses to willingly give away and let his choice be the right one. Our son gives because it brings him joy. The last thing I wand to do is squelch that spirit or teach him it is wrong to give wholeheartedly.
Giving isn’t about the money spent or the newness of an item — it is about the love behind it, the thought that drives our decision to give. I am so thankful to my son for such a sweet illustration to remind me of why we really give. May you be as touched by his willingness to give as I have been.
P.S. the apple tree image accompanying this post is a snapshot from earlier this year, when we were blessed with being able to pick several bushels of apples from others who had an abundance themselves.
A couple months have passed, but my son recently found another kitty that should have been donated with the house at Christmas. He was sad and made sure to tell me that we needed to give it to the kids who got the house. Nary a word about “I miss my toys” or “where are the rest?” His heart is set on giving, on sharing, on compassionate acts of kindness. I feel so blessed to be parenting such a kind and thoughtful child.