I had an unusual, surprising, and quite touching Thursday. At this point in the holiday season most people are feeling the pressure of the looming deadline of Christmas. People are rushed and cranky and acting like a horse’s patoot when they normally wouldn’t. But there’s magic out there to be had when we’re open to it.
The Hobbit had his final day of preschool today before the holiday break. He loves preschool, so getting ready and going to school is almost always a pleasant experience. We were taking Christmas treat bags for his classmates and teachers that included candy sleighs I had put together earlier this week and The Hobbit has been frothing at the mouth to get his hands on. Very exciting. Then, to REALLY put the morning over the top, I had promised The Hobbit we could go shopping for a toy and he could spend some of his birthday loot.
After preschool, we went to Target to look at toys. The Hobbit is fairly decisive when it comes to toys. He likes trucks, especially trucks that have trailers and haul things. He also likes trains, and coming in a strong third is farming machinery. We looked at everything. Three times. He almost settled on a $7 Hot Wheels transport truck, but after carrying it around a bit decided it wasn’t what he really wanted and he would like to go look at another store. I put the truck back, and we made our way out of toys, through housewares, and past the greeting cards. The Hobbit was chattering away, holding my hand, and I had one ear tuned to him while navigating the store. A woman standing by the greeting cards caught my gaze and we smiled at each other as strangers do when accidental eye contact is made. We threaded our way through the check out and had made our way outside, nearly to our truck, when someone behind me said, “Excuse me.”
I turned around to find the woman from the greeting card section that I had traded smiles with. I was a little surprised that she’d followed us out of the store, but for some reason I get a lot of people asking me where something is located in the store or asking for directions or saying things like, “You look like you know where the chalkboard paint is, can you help me?” so I wasn’t terribly surprised to be addressed by a stranger. What happened next caught me off guard though. The woman was soft-spoken, struck me as being a little shy, and she said, “Would you mind if I gave him a little something for Christmas?” and gestured towards The Hobbit. She had a twenty-dollar bill rolled up in her hand and handed it to The Hobbit. For just a moment I was struck speechless. The woman continued, “It’s just something I like to do for Christmas, is it okay?” For a brief moment, I almost didn’t accept, and in a flash I realized it probably brought her a lot of joy to give surprises like that. I know it does me. I picked my jaw up off the ground and stammered out a “Thank you,” and the woman was gone before I could collect my thoughts and ask her name or behave like someone with manners as opposed to the socially stunted ding bat I came across as in that moment.
I was quite overcome by the whole exchange and began to cry a bit as we walked the last few feet to our vehicle. The Hobbit was waving around the $20 trying to figure out what the heck just happened and completely thrilled because, “That Lady gave me cash! Why did she do that?” I told him she was a nice lady who did a really generous thing, trying to make sense of it myself, as I strapped him into his car seat. Once I had him buckled in, I pushed up my sunglasses and wiped my tears. Taking in my emotional outburst, The Hobbit asked, “Mom, what’s WRONG with you?” I mumbled something about strangers, generosity, blah blah blah (yeah, it sounded like bullshit to me as I said, but I didn’t know how to explain myself) and he said, “That Lady gave me cash. I loooooooooooooooove cash!” So then there was laughter through the tears as well.
I think the whole exchange caught me off guard because when I think of random acts of kindness/generosity, I cast myself in the role of giver, not recipient. I also thought, Man, I have got to get this kid’s hair cut, get my hair done, and maybe buy a shirt or two that isn’t from the Wal-Mart Fruit of the Loom line of Men’s Wear.
We made our way two towns over to a Wal-Mart where I knew they had some cool looking car hauler trucks in stock. (And how do I know that? A Retailer’s Crystal Ball? No, far more mundane. Fakefish and I, in the time honored tradition of parents everywhere, had gone on a Quest earlier in the week to track down a Leap Pad 2. The Quest led us to five stores through three cities. Leap Pad 2 procured, and knowledge of car haulers obtained. ) It was a 20 mile drive to get to the Wal-Mart in question, and I was doing all sorts of fool things to keep The Hobbit from falling asleep on the way there.
Outside Wal-Mart was a Salvation Army bell-ringer, and as we approached the door The Hobbit got a very serious look on his face and said, “Mom, you have to put money in the bucket on the way out.” The only cash on my person was the kid’s birthday money, so I told him that if he wanted to put money in he could, but it would have to be his birthday money. I thought he’d bristle at the idea of parting with his beloved C A $ H, but by then we had stepped into Wal-Mart and there were toys (!) to be looked at. We walked right up to the first row of toys and there was the truck. He took one look at it, decided he wanted to buy it, and walked directly to the self-check-out (no line!!!) where he paid for his new toy. As we approached the door, he reminded me he wanted to put some money in the Salvation Army Bucket, so I pulled a dollar out of his wallet and he happily put it in the bucket, waving to the bell-ringer and telling the man “Merry Christmas.”
When Fakefish got home this evening and I filled him in on our day, we were both a blubbering mess of goo over the unexpected kindness of strangers and the generosity of our four-year-old. I was so overwhelmed with The Feels, I very nearly busted out in a cliché pronouncement like Tiny Tim, “God Bless Us Every One!”. I may return to my cynical, grumpy self in the morning, but tonight I’m feelin’ pretty shiny. Thanks, humanity, for the big dose of hope.