November 28, 2014
By Ekta R. Garg
In this week of thanks it’s also important, of course, to remember the second part of the word: giving. I’ve read articles through the years and heard from other parents that even young children can learn what it means to share with people less fortunate or with charitable causes. In truth, though, I never quite knew how to implement that kind of strategy in our own home.
How do you explain to a three-year-old or a four- or five-year-old—even an eight-year-old—about inequality? Or about the fact that many people in our world use the earth’s resources in an irresponsible manner? Maybe it’s my own reluctance to introduce the kids to the idea that while some people do the right thing and make sincere efforts to help one another, other people find it within their nature to do just the opposite.
I do want Eight and Six to understand that resources have limits, however, and so we encouraged them from their toddler days to turn off the water while they wash their hands and brush their teeth, to shut the door behind them as soon as they leave the house (instead of just leaving it wide open,) and to reuse notebook paper by using both sides. Any paper that gets fully used goes in the pile of papers on the kitchen counter earmarked for recycling, and that stack gets dumped in the recycling bin before the end of the day.
Fortunately both of them have heard in school enough about the environment that they often initiate conversations about it with me. Because Six, in particular, is our resident animal lover, she perks up any time the teachers mention anything about polar bears, dolphins, or any other species in trouble. I didn’t realize until a few months ago, though, that she wanted to become an activist as well.
One day both girls came to me and said they had started an animal sanctuary. That is, they would transform Eight’s room into a haven for animals that needed it. They even made signs to hang in her room declaring for animals across the world that they could find a haven at the end of the hall.
I really didn’t want to get into a discussion on whether they planned to make an appeal for some sort of divine call to bring animals two by two to Eight’s room, so I just smiled and told them I thought they had a great idea.
A few days later the animal sanctuary had developed into a fund. At some point the sisters had talked about it and come to a serious decision: they would donate all of the money from their piggy banks to the generically-named “animal sanctuary fund.”
“Mamma, can you go on the computer and find out information about the animal sanctuary fund?” Six asked, business-like.
Once again I did the smile and nod. Sure, I said. I could find out about it.
They’re kids, I thought. I’m sure they’ll move on to something else in a week.
(It’s at this point that I should have received a swift knock in the head. Just when am I going to stop underestimating these kids?)
Not only did they decide to donate all of their money to their fund, they began saving aggressively to that end. Two pairs of eyes started searching parking lots and sidewalks for loose change. They took all of the quarters and dimes and dollars they earned for completing chores and from the Tooth Fairy and the loose change their grandfather slipped them and stored the money in their piggy banks. At some point, during a reorganization of their funds, they decided that all of the coins would go in one bank and all of the bills in another.
I kept hearing about the animal sanctuary fund and kept nodding and smiling. At one point my husband asked me, “Are you really going to send the money to an animal sanctuary?”
“No way,” I said immediately. “I’ll just put it in their savings accounts or something. They’ll never know.”
The longer this went on, though, the more I realized something: Eight and Six meant it from their hearts when they told me to look for an animal sanctuary. They had every intention in the world to donate the money to a fund; they didn’t want to keep any of it for themselves.
I went from acting glib to landing in a quandary. Where would I find a fund? Of course, I knew I could search online, like the kids first suggested, but I wanted the destination of the funds to mean something to the girls.
Two weeks ago I got a letter in the mail from the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. We’d visited the zoo during our Labor Day trip to the city and became members. With a child who loves animals as much as Six does, zoo memberships kind of come naturally to our family.
The letter asked for a donation, and I got an idea.
A couple of days after I received the letter the girls declared they were ready to mail their money to a fund. They’d collected $40 and felt like it was a good amount to send. I asked them several times if they wanted to send all of the money. Did they want to keep any of it for themselves?
“We want to send all of it,” they asserted.
I took the crumpled dollar bills and piggy bank full of change to the bank and deposited it. Then I wrote a check from our own account and put it in the envelope provided by the zoo. I also wrote a note to let the fundraisers know that the kids had collected the money themselves and that I was mailing it on their behalf.
The next day after school I picked up both kids and drove to the post office. With a little bit of a flourish, I tossed the envelope into the large drive-thru mailbox.
“All right, kids, here it goes!” I said.
As we got on the road toward home, Six said, “Now we should start collecting money for the poor.”
With children who have open hearts like these, it’s easy to remember in this week of gratitude both to express thanks and also to give to others.