Saturday morning I took the girls to Target for some back-to-school shopping before Pumpkin starts pre-K. We had a list of supplies requested by the school, and a few other items on the list – rubber bands for their hair, shorts to wear under dresses, chew toys so the puppy will quit destroying the carpet in our bedroom … the kinds of things that are maybe not exactly necessities, but still feel necessary. I walked out of the store feeling concerned over how much money I’d just spent, when I was approached by an older woman.
“I have three grandbabies, and they don’t have wipes or diapers,” she told me, and asked for help.
Now, Peanut is in cloth diapers but I still had a handful of disposables in the diaper bag from traveling so I told her I might have a few diapers and some wipes in the diaper bag.
“What about food?” she asked.
I told her I’d look. I shuffled through the diaper bag and found four diapers, a half-empty packet of wipes, and the snack bag, mostly empty from vacation, now containing just two bags of fruit snacks and a bag of airline peanuts.
“They’ve eaten everything else, but you can have these,” I told her.
She took everything I offered, but she didn’t say a word. Pumpkin wanted to know why she didn’t say thank you.
“Sometimes people tell you they want one thing, but what they really want is money,” I told her. “Maybe she wants the money for her grandkids, maybe she doesn’t have grandkids. It’s nice to help people if you can, but you also have to be careful not to let them take advantage of you.”
These types of conversations with kids can be tough, and I’m not sure I always have the right answers. I’d considered just telling the woman no, and going about my day. But then, I thought, I’d be a better example for my girls if I tried to help.
But did my handful of items help? Did she find it insulting? Did she expect I was going to go back into the store and buy her something? If there really were three grandbabies who needed to eat, could I have done more? Should I have done more?
Last summer, I was out shopping alone one afternoon. I tend to hand over the bulk of my paycheck to Mr. G for bills and rarely carry any cash. On this particular day, I had a gift card from my birthday I wanted to spend. I also had a $20 bill in my wallet that was designated for a baby shower gift we were all chipping in for at work, and not much else.
Walking to my car with my purchase in hand, I was approached by a girl in her early 20s. She told me she was stranded – she had recently moved to the area and lived about 20 minutes away. She came with a friend to get a haircut and the so-called friend left her there. She was trying to come up with enough money for a cab home. I gave her the couple dollars of loose change in my wallet and told her it was all I had. She asked if I could go to the ATM and get her some cash. I told her no. At this point, she was being pushy, and I was feeling uncomfortable. I left.
But as I drove home, I wondered what I would do if it were me, and then thought of a variety of ways I could have gotten the money to get home – even if it weren’t for that gift card money hiding in my wallet – and realized that many of those options make me luckier than many people. And if my kid was one day stranded somewhere and dependent on the kindness of a stranger, I absolutely would hope that someone would help her out. But does that make me obligated to help out every person with their hand out? Obviously, that’s just not possible. Ultimately, I guess, I hope my kids learn empathy and generosity – but not gullibility.