What is he looking at? I thought, watching as he stared out the window, which faces the front of our house and gives us a view from our front yard to the top of our very long street.
“What are those kids doing, mommy?” he asked.
Lately, A has been very intrigued by the older kids in our neighborhood. Since he is only 4 ½, the seven and eight-year olds on our street are “big kids” who spend a lot of time out in the street, playing soccer and riding bikes. I thought I would peer out the window to see a kid doing something he had never seen before – possibly roller blading or playing street hockey?
These kids – four of them – were scattered on various street corners from our house all the way up the street to the busy road that acts as our neighborhood’s only entrance. A road that gets a lot of traffic.
What are these kids doing standing on the street corners? I thought.
“Let’s go check it out,” I said to A, and off we went, across the street to the first boy we came to. His twin brother, their older sister, and their younger brother were up the street with similar set-ups. Boxes used for “tables,” cardboard signs asking for money, and contagious smiles that stopped nearly every car that pulled onto the street.
A and I stood there, talking to the boy, who I found out was seven years old, and watched in awe as nearly every car stopped to see what they were selling. Lemonade? Cookies? Hand-made bracelets?
They weren’t selling anything. They were out there asking for money to donate to local charities. I was amazed. I stood there for a good 10 minutes, asking the boy questions and venturing up the street to talk with his siblings as well. They were competing to see who could make the most money for their chosen charity – the initial boy I spoke to was donating to the American Red Cross, as was his sister and little brother, while his twin brother chose San Diego Children’s Hospital as his charity.
Their small buckets were piling with coins and dollar bills. For hours, A, who was learning an invaluable lesson about helping others, wandered back and forth between play time in the back of the house and his perch at the front window.
I thought these kids would be out there for an hour, max. Didn’t they have Xbox games to play or TV to watch? No. They were out there for hours and hours. All afternoon. It was their Christmas break, and they were standing on the street corner collecting money for others.
The next morning, they were back at it with just as much ambition and enthusiasm. This time, however, kids from all over the neighborhood were stopping by to see what they were doing. Before I knew it, these kids were dancing to gain attention, and the desperate ones were walking out into the street holding the signs straight above their heads so that cars had no choice but to stop (I actually did this when I was around 7. My friend, Heather, and I, set up a lemonade stand in the median on a busy road. Our theory? Get em from both directions! We made zero money and nearly popped a blood vessel in Heather’s mom’s forehead when she found us in the middle of the road. Thank goodness she found us rather than the cops. For the record, we weren’t collecting money for any cause other than buying candy at the convenient store we often rode our bikes to.)
Over time, parents started coming out to see what all these kids were doing, neighbors were talking about how wonderful they were, and nearly every car that drove by tossed in a few bucks. Their cause became a central point for gathering, gabbing, and giving.
And this gave me an idea. Use this as a learning moment. A actually asked what the Red Cross is, and I got to explain to him that it’s an organization (I’m sure I used a less confusing word for a 4-year old) that helps other people. He really listened and asked lots of questions. I take advantage of these moments whenever I can. Life is full of learning moments.
A was so truly interested in those kids collecting money to help other people, that I have since been telling him about other things that apply to his life: I’ve talked to him about how some kids aren’t lucky enough to have toys (when he’s asking to go to Target to buy a new one), that not all little boys have a brother or sister (when he’s terrorizing his little brother), that not everybody has food to eat (when he’s spitting out his dinner saying, “yuck, what is that!?”)
Those four kids sparked something in me that day – a desire to tell my boys all about the good in the world. And if they stop spitting out their food, asking for toys all the time, and fighting with each other in the process, well, that’s just icing on the cake!