It all started over a month ago. We headed to the Long Beach Aquarium with a friend of Jacob’s from school. He had $5 in his pocket that his mom had sent with him in case he’d like to buy something while he was there. My kids didn’t understand what one could possibly buy at the aquarium; all of our previous visits I had managed to walk right past the gift shop without them ever inquiring what was in that room. They were clueless. But not anymore. Ha!
So we walked into the gift shop at the end of our time at the aquarium. Only taking a few steps into the store Natalie instantaneously fell in love with this huge stuffed-toy penguin on display. A $38.95 penguin!! She asked “Mama, may I pleeeeeeeease get this?” Um. No. No way. X-nay. Definitely not. Are you kidding me? A $40 penguin??! Don’t even think about it. Did I say all of that? Absolutely not. But that’s definitely what went through my head. We had never shopped at gift shops before. This was a new concept. Would we ever buy something in a gift shop? If yes, how much would we spend there? Would it occur every time we frequent the aquarium? There were a whole slue of conversations we needed to discuss. So right now the answer was simply “no”. She couldn’t understand. The only thought that ran through her mind was “you mean I’m going to need to put this beautiful, soft and cute animal back down and walk out of here without it in my arms?????” She has thankfully learned that my ‘no’ means no. So she put it down. Her eyes full to the brim with tears. But she complied and walked out of the gift store without a single complaint about it. So that night as I tucked her into bed I praised her for how she had responded. I thanked her for obeying me and not whining, stomping, complaining or throwing a tantrum about it.
The next few days she kept talking about the penguin. How cute it was. How much she loved it. How she wished she could one day get it. And this talk went on for a good week. All of a sudden one day Jacob said, “Natalie, I tell you what. For your next birthday, when you turn 5, I’ll buy you that penguin for your present.” Her jaw dropped in amazement and then she did a happy dance, throwing her arms around her brother’s neck and said “really, Jacob??!” Thank you! Thank you!” I reminded him that this penguin cost nearly $40. He said he would take what he had saved in his wallet ($8) and begin saving even more. He would do as much recycling as he could and would just save, save, save until he could buy this for her. Wow.
He started off with his $8 he had in his wallet from his previous savings from recycling efforts. But then within a day he had $13. Natalie had decided on her own that if her brother was going to try to reach this goal for her, she would empty her wallet of its $5 and contribute to his savings fund. The concept of them being a team really hit home. They had a common goal of purchasing this penguin.
He received a surprise contribution of $7 to the savings fund from grandparents which brought him to the incredible place of having $20. Whoa! He was sooooooooo excited! He was halfway there!
So the next week Jacob pleaded with me if we could please take our recyclables in for cash. After all the work of sorting and taking it in, he was able to add $3 to his fund…..the weeks went by, kept his eyes open in parking lots for fallen coins…….he asked if he could do 100 worksheets of math for $5, I giggled and said “no way, buddy, education is a gift and I’ll never pay you to learn.” So for weeks he stayed put at $23. But he was okay with that because Natalie’s birthday was still 5 months away. He still had time. He was hopeful and determined to make it happen somehow.
Well then the big surprise came in the mail this week! Inside each of their early-sent Valentine’s cards from grandparents was a $5 bill for each of them. $5?!?!??!?!?! Whooooaaaa! That brought his total to $28. As soon as Natalie saw her $5 bill in her card, she turned to Jacob and handed it over to him and said, “here Jacob, so I can help you save for my penguin.” Bam! All of a sudden he went from having $23 to now $33, after receiving this fun mail. Oh boy! Excitement was high.
In my mind I kept thinking, “wow this is all happening so fast! He’s earned on his own$11, been given $5 from Natalie’s savings and received as a gift $17 from his grandfather.” I was hoping it would slow down a bit and get stretched over 5-months of time instead of being on speed-mode in order for him to really appreciate the value of money and working hard for it. But today indeed he worked really hard!
At breakfast time Jacob asked if there was any way he could earn some money. We don’t give our kids money for chores. We’ve recycled all that we have so far. So how else could he earn money? This was a great question. Steve had ahead of him a day of work in the backyard. So he made a proposition to Jacob that since pulling weeds is above-and-beyond the regular job of chores around the house, that he would be willing to let him earn some money doing that. So he pointed out to him the 6feet x 12feet garden area we have that is now full of weeds. Last year the kids planted seeds of all sorts of vegetables, but now it was just one big weed jungle. Jacob at first asked if he could make $5 pulling the weeds. Steve and I thought $2 was more appropriate. And so Jacob began….
Steve taught him how to use the ‘weeder’ to dig down deep and remove the weed by its root. And Jacob sat there digging and pulling for two hours. Yes, I know, at this point it seems like child labor to consider he made $1 per hour. But in the moment it seemed like a reasonable amount of money. Perhaps it’s because we were estimating it based on the amount of time it would take a grown-up to pull the weeds. But for a 6-year old it was a whole different time scale.
We took a break for lunch and then Jacob returned to work for another hour. He ended up raking the whole area and waiting for Daddy to come inspect his work. You should have seen the look on Jacob’s face when Steve handed him the two one-dollar bills. A look of significant pride and “I did it!” satisfaction. This was indeed hard-earned money!!! And Jacob felt good. He ran to his room waving the $2 in the air, sooooooo excited to combine it with another three dollar bills he had, to ask me for an exchange of a $5 bill. He was smiling from ear-to-ear; he was just so excited!
In the meantime Steve started trimming the hedge in our backyard. As the branches fell to the ground in heaps along the entire length of our yard, I said to Jacob “I think you might be able to strike up another deal with Daddy. Ask him if you can earn money picking up all the clippings from the vine.” Mind you, this was a whooooooooooooole lot of work! Piles upon piles upon piles (probably two or three trash cans worth) of greenery to pick up. Steve and Jacob made a deal- if he picked it all up, he could earn $5.
When Jacob’s brain processed that the $2 from weeding + the $5 of picking up the hedge clippings could bring him to his goal of $40, his eyes lit up with excitement!!!! He would finally have enough to buy Natalie that penguin!!!! I told him that if he was able to do the work in one hour, we would be able to drive down to the aquarium and he could buy it today. Jacob sprinted to Natalie to share the good news with her. She was busy making a mud pie on a rock; piling up mud and then sprinkling tiny bits of gravel she had filled daddy’s work glove with. When she heard what Jacob was saying she screamed with excitement! She couldn’t believe her ears! I told her that if she helped him pick up all the cut greenery, we could leave even sooner. They needed to do it in an hour or less.
The two of them raced with excitement to the furthest wall of our backyard and started picking up armfuls of the cut greens. And that’s when Natalie began and never stopped saying: “Jacob, thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Jacob…..oh Jacob….I can’t say thank you enough…..Jacob you have made me feel so special saving all this money for me……ohhhhhhhh Jacob thank you. thank you. thank you. thank you. Jacob I was wishing for this day to happen……my dream is coming true……ohhhhhhh Jacob you could have done other things with your money but you chose to save it for me. thank you Jacob. thank you. thank you. I am soooooo excited that today is the day. Oh this is my lucky day. Oh Jacob I need to warn you that I’m going to hug you so tight. Jacob I’m just so excited. You really saved all that money for me. For me. You didn’t have to. But you did. Oh Jacob, thank you. Jacob I am so grateful. Thank you.”
And her effusive thanks continued for 40 minutes as they worked together scooping up huge armfuls of the cut branches and dumping them into the trash can. Jacob’s generous and giving heart was beautiful. Their teamwork was beautiful. Natalie’s gratitude was beautiful. My heart was swelling with joy and thanksgiving that I have such loving children, who love on each other so profusely. This is a mama’s dream.
So at 4pm though we all quickly changed into cleaner clothes, we still smelled like we had been working outside. Ha! Fingernails filled with dirt. Hair that had that earthy smell of dust and dirt. But Natalie had her heels on! She wanted to celebrate this special occasion looking fancy. Jacob shared, “Mama this is the most exciting day of my life. I have never bought anything so expensive before!”
And how appropriate that all of this happened today when we also had the last chapter to read of “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” (written by Richard and Florence Atwater, originally published in 1938). I had started reading this book to them in this unit of “Oceans” that Jacob is studying at school. I loved how it talked about the Arctic and Antarctic and brought to his mind the thought of expeditions at sea by scientists to head to the Poles. So here we were, the four of us driving to Long Beach, with me reading aloud the final chapter of the book. As I read I began to cry. Steve and the kids looked at me probably thinking “what’s going on with mama?” But there in the last chapter Mr. Popper (the main character) is faced with the decision of either signing a contract for thousands upon thousands of dollars to allow a movie to be made of his penguins -or- instead to send them off with the admiral on a ship to a colder climate where they will thrive. So as I’m reading about Mr. Popper making the decision that was not in his best-interest, but instead what was good for the penguins…..and reading the details of his farewell to the penguins…..while at the same time I was feeling all of the emotion of the beauty of Jacob’s heart for Natalie and his willingness (as a six year old) to spend 4 hours of his Saturday doing hard labor in the backyard as well as giving to her his hard-earned and saved up money…..
yeah….the tears began to flow.
As I read the last line of the book we arrived at the parking garage of the aquarium.
And the four of us walked in, headed to the gift store, I asked them to pose for a picture. Natalie put her arm around Jacob with this look of “I am the luckiest girl alive to have this boy as my brother”. And Jacob held up his Thomas-the-Train wallet in two hands with this big smile and a look that seemed to say “I have a gift of hard-earned and carefully saved money in this wallet that I know is about to make my sister feel super duper special and I’m really really happy to do this.”
When the lady at the cashier rang up the penguin and I stepped to the side to let Jacob step forward and count out his money, I explained “he’s wanting to buy this for his sister with his own money”, the lady’s eyes instantaneously filled with tears and she said “that has got to be the sweetest thing I’ve heard or seen all day today.”
Jacob walked out with a sense of deep, deep satisfaction.
Tonight Natalie went to sleep with her arms wrapped tightly around the neck of Lulu, the giant penguin that now lives in our home.
Every time I look at this big penguin, I will see the love and sacrifice Jacob wanted to give Natalie and the profound message of importance and significance that caused Natalie to feel.
Oh dear Lord seal them together for their lifetime. I pray a blessing over them. May they be as tight, as loving, as intent upon making the other one feel special and loved and significant their whole life long. And may I never forget this moment.