Posts for teaching values

What a Purple Pen is teaching me about Generosity

Foster/Adoption, Parenting - Lynn Johnson - April 17, 2015

Having a kid can teach you a lot about generosity.  I think it’s because kids are so freakin’ selfish.  My daughter is anyway.  Don’t get me wrong.  She can also be very generous and loving and kind.  It’s just that she is also the most selfish, least grateful person I have ever met.

During a session with my new life coach, he led me through a visualization in which my future self gave my present self the gift of a gold pen.  We uncovered that this gift represented giving myself permission to express my full self, to share my stories with the world.  My coach’s homework to me that week was to go out and actually get myself that pen.  So, I took off on a quest to buy myself the perfect gold pen (in my current price range).  This was an important shopping trip for me and I made the mistake choice to bring The Squirrel along.

Because I was already aware of the fact that she is the most selfish person on the planet, I knew that The Squirrel would derive absolutely no pleasure from me finding my perfect pen.  So, I decided that bringing her with me meant that I would be buying her a pen too.  I thought it would be fun.  Meaningful, even.  A mommy/daughter pen adventure.  We would both find the ideal symbols of our individual self-expression.  It would be a Saturday morning we would ever forget.  We would both write about the excursion as a life changing, transformational experience in our memoirs.  Our respective pens would ultimately end up in the Smithsonian.


I did find a great pen.  I even found a chic Kate Spade notebook and pencil case to go along with it.  Because, you know, why not?  I asked The Squirrel what kind of pen and notebook would inspire her.  She said “Purple!” (which is her answer to most questions) and we continued our shopping until we found her the perfect purple notebook and a purple pen.  The pen even came with an eraser!  I just knew I had bought my daughter the gift to end all gifts.

purple pen

“Mommy, why didn’t you buy me a pencil case too?!  I want a pencil case!!”

She scream-whined this as we were sitting outside with our packages on a beautiful sunny day.  All of the magic I had experienced thus far completely evaporated from my consciousness and was replaced with rage.

“You know what…” I started into lecture mode, “you and I are different people.  Sometimes we might have the same things but often, we are going to have different things.  You said that you wanted a purple pen and a purple notebook.  That’s what I got you.  I got you what YOU wanted.  It’s no fun to give gifts to someone who doesn’t appreciate them.  So, if you can’t be grateful for what you have, you don’t need to get any gifts at all!”

Yes.  I said this to her.  Something like this anyway.  I find myself saying something like this all…the…time.  I said something like this after she opened up what I thought was an overflowing Easter basket complete with a brand new baby doll and her response was “Is that it?”  I said something like this after the 15th time of her asking “why can’t I have it?!” in our 15 minute trip Target.  I say something like this every time she rolls her eyes at having to send another Thank You card or she dares to proclaim “I never get anything!” when everything, all the time, is entirely all about her.

So, I took the pen and notebook from her and haven’t given them back since.

Honestly, I don’t think that this was the best choice on my part.  I feel like an immature jerk taking them away from her.  I want to give them back.   The Squirrel is only 6 years old.  And, because of the trauma and loss she has experienced in her life, she often behaves at the developmental level of someone much younger than that.  I realize that all young kids are still developing the skill of gratitude.  Of course she is selfish.  She is at that stage of life where she can barely see a world past her own skin.  All she knows and understands to be true is the stuff that is happening right in front of her eyes.  And she barely understands that.  She is a kid and her job is to be absolutely and completely selfish; to learn herself and understand herself so that she can start to then appreciate the world around her.

Still.  It rubs me the wrong way.

I think I am afraid that she will never grow out of it.  Our social worker tries to make me feel better by pointing out that “many of us think our kids will grow up to be axe murderers.”  I know it’s a ridiculous fear.  I know I have to have patience with her development.  I know that I have to just keep teaching her my values of gratitude and generosity through my own example.

Yet, I am still holding on to this purple pen.  I don’t know how to give it back now.  It’s awkward.   I know she remembers it.  I know she knows that she lost something that day.  I caught her once about to ask about it and then stop herself, “Never mind.”

Perhaps I should just let it show up in her room, unceremoniously, one day.  Or perhaps I should re-wrap it and give it to her in celebration of a special occasion.

It doesn’t really matter.  She won’t be thankful for it anyway.

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