Learning how to make a difference

By Jennifer DuBose

Last week, Noah decided that he needed a new winter coat. Said the sleeves were too short on the one he wore last winter, and stretched his arms out to illustrate his point.

“What do you want to do with this one?” I sighed, wondering where I might score a bargain on a new one.

“‘Goodwill’ it, or something like that,” he said. I laughed, recalling a conversation we had years ago when he was just five.

“Hey Noah,” I’d asked him then, “What do you think about giving your old winter coat to someone who needs one?”

“Nah, I wanna put it away for safekeeping,” he said.

“Safekeeping?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he replied, scrunching his nose. At his age, giving up his old coat would not be easy to do.

“That old coat has been good to you, hasn’t it? Gosh, for two years, it’s kept you warm, all winter long, huh?” Almost half his life, I realized.

“Yeah. I wanna keep it,” he repeated.

“I know, sweetheart,” I said, as I struggled to find a way to make it okay for Noah to surrender the coat he’d outgrown – especially since it was already in the trunk of my car, destined for the ‘Coats for Kids’ box at the grocery store.

I tried again.

“You know what? I have a hunch that your coat would get mighty lonely, all packed up in the basement. And bored, too, with nothing to do. Know what I mean?”

A smile slowly formed on Noah’s face. I felt encouraged.

“And golly, I bet he’d like nothing better than to find another little boy to keep warm. Just think what fun that would be for him. After all, it’s his job, you know? To keep kids warm?” I winced. I was desperate for his permission.

“Alright,” Noah sighed. Either he was convinced my story had merit, or was simply ready for me to quit yammering about it. Either way, he knew the coat was a goner. “Go ahead and give it away,” he said, rolling his eyes.

I have to admit, I felt a tug of nostalgia as I dropped Noah’s old coat into the cardboard box at the store. I remembered buying it, and recalled how I considered that its blue color would match his eyes perfectly. I thought about the snow angels he made while wearing it, and can still picture him with his Daddy, sliding down the hill after a snowfall, the hood framing his sweet face. Surprised at my ambivalence to part with this simple thing – a little blue coat, which held so many precious memories and once held my little boy – I thanked it for a job well done and wished it well on its journey to another one.

As I walked away, regretting that Noah hadn’t been there to make the donation himself, I realized that as a parent I have an extraordinary responsibility and opportunity to teach my children how to give. I have a hunch that I probably taught Noah more about giving-in than about giving, that first time, but I’m thrilled that the impulse to give is second-nature for him now.

Because a child who learns how to give knows that he matters to other people, and knows that he has the ability to make a difference.

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