grumpy about greed

Jesse has never really been greedy, apart from rare phases of normal childhood jealousy and desire. She’s not that into stuff, even though she has a lot of it, and she shares without reservation. After the dentist pulled two molars out of her mouth yesterday, I wondered aloud what the tooth fairy might bring. Usually it’s books or toys, but I was thinking maybe this time the tooth fairy might bring money. Because maybe that would be easier for the tooth fairy, hypothetically speaking. But Jesse told me she hoped the tooth fairy didn’t do that, because she already has money. So next I asked her what she would want. She answered, “I don’t really like to say ‘I want’, mommy, because that sounds very selfish. ‘I want I want.’ It just sounds greedy, and I don’t really need anything.”

Contented sighs filled my heart. And yet, because Jesse is who she is, it would never occur to her that she could refuse to put her teeth out and tell Tooth Fairy not to bring her anything. That would be hubris. So she wrote a note to T.F.:

tf note

“Please don’t send money because I am already earning money.” Wow. I wonder what the world would be like if more adults felt that way. Also I think it’s sweet that Jesse warned Ms. Fairy about the stink of her rotten teeth.

Nick has always been naturally more greedy than Jesse. He wants a piece of the action, no matter what it is. He wants stuff. He’s still good at sharing (he’s had a nearly-perfect role model in Jesse since the day he was born), but he’s more materialistic. I don’t fault him for this, because I think it’s just how he’s wired up, and we’re working on it gently. This morning I was pottering about taking care of mommy business while he played. He took note of me writing a check and asked me what I was doing. “I’m giving money to your school,” I answered. “They’re collecting money from families to build a cabin in the woods space.”

Nick goes to the Schlitz Audubon Nature Preschool. Today is his last day at the preschool, ever. There are three outdoor classrooms. The only one without a house-like-structure is known as “the woods space,” and a wonderful mom has spear-headed an effort to get families in the class of 2013-14 to donate money to buy a cabin for it. It ain’t cheap. If you donate a hundred bucks, you can have a hand-carved wooden oak leaf attached to the cabin with whatever names on it you want. I’m going for it. I think it’ll be a pretty cool legacy to the school from our year. Plus I’d like to see a leaf on the cabin with Nick’s and Jesse’s names, since they’ve both spent many delightful hours at the school. In the years to come, we can go visit the building and find their names, retrieve happy memories, and thus hold onto a piece of these joyful early years.  As such, for me it feels less like a charitable donation and more like a selfish act. I’m still being greedy, even though I’m giving money away.

Nick was contemplative when I told him what I was doing. He stared out the window into our back yard for a moment, and then he looked up at me, speaking his four-year-old mind. “Ooooh. The woods doesn’t have a cabin… We can buy one for it?”

“Yup. That’s why mommies and daddies are donating money.”

“Can I give some of my money too?”

(more contented sighs in my heart.)

“You don’t have to, but yes, you can.”

He ran upstairs to find his tiny cache of cash. I honestly don’t know where he keeps it. He came down with a dollar bill. This is a mighty treasure, exceeding an ordinary tithe by a wide margin. I put it in the envelope and bit my tongue, which wanted to tell Nick he didn’t have to give that much.

“Is that enough to buy the cabin, mommy?”

“No,” I chuckled, remembering that wee kids have no concept of scale when it comes to cost. “It’ll take a lot more than that.”

“Wait a minute,” he announced, as he ran upstairs again. He came down next with his tiny hand full of change from his piggy bank, to add to the kitty. Three trips later, he was finally done, but only because I had sealed the envelope, and also I fibbed. “Yes, Nick, I think that’s finally enough to buy the cabin.”

After I tucked the envelope in a safe place, I melted into a puddle of happy on the floor of my living room. My kids have given the one-two punch to greed in the last 24 hours. I hope they hold onto that goodness in their adult years and keep teaching me lessons in generosity after I’ve forgotten them myself. The road to greed is broad and well-trodden, a veritable trench. I wish with all my soul that my kids take the road less traveled by, and perhaps make all the difference.

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