Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Lolly Pop

Years ago I made a mistake. This was not an unusual occurrence. I had worked for a particularly long time with a young fellow who had a fairly serious problem with temper. His mother and I met weekly as I reviewed how the behaviour approach was going and made plans for teaching her son some new skills. He did well, needing simply consistency and a bit of reinforcement. I got to enjoy the meetings and really connected with both mother and child. When my involvement came to an end I had a 'termination meeting' with both. The little boy had bought me a little gift, something very small, a little figurine of a dog. It couldn't have cost more than five dollars.

He gave it to me with a sense of real drama, very proud of having a gift to give. I looked at it and thanked him for the gift. Then I explained how I couldn't take a gift as it was inappropriate of me to accept such an offering. He pressed me to take it because he had picked it out knowing that I liked dogs. I quietly but firmly let him know that I couldn't take his gift. I left feeling mother's disapproving gaze on my back.

Years later I would be working with people with disabilities who are lonely. People who want relationships. People who lack the skills necessary to form relationships - people who had learned about taking not about giving, people who had learned to consider themselves and not others, people who had systematically been trained to be selfish in their approach to human relationships. I remembered, then, a little boy who tried to give and who had his gift turned down. It was a mistake I really regretted.

But it wasn't one I made twice.

Yesterday morning we were joined for breakfast at the hotel by Mike and his family. The evening before we had given Ruby and Sadie, the kids, a few presents that we had picked up on the road. Ruby loves presents, of course, and her enjoyment of our small gifts was reward enough for having bought them. She came to breakfast carrying a large pink purse that she had insisted on bringing. Her mom and dad aren't sure where she got it but she loves that purse.

As we were all talking, Ruby had finished her cereal. She slid off her chair and opened her purse and fished inside it. Then her hands full she came over and stacked three pennies by my plate followed by a lollipop. Quietly she went over to Joe's plate and, again, stacked three pennies and layed a lollipop. Once done, she went back to her seat and climbed back up grinning widely.

Conversation done, I picked up my three pennies and the lollipop and thanked Ruby. Her mother and father didn't realize that she had gone into her stash of candy to get us these treats. She beamed as we thanked her and saw us each pocket three pennies and a lollipop.

We may have left with six cents more than we came with - but Ruby left richer.

You live.

You learn.


Kelly Bannister said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kelly Bannister said...

ooops I deleted my comment by mistake. grrr

How do we teach reciprocity if we do not accept it when it's given to us? we (the agencies we work for who have this policy in place) really need to think about this.

ivanova said...

Ruby sounds like a sensational kid.

FridaWrites said...


Dora said...

Lovely. An important lesson for children that I think a lot of parents miss these days.

Brenda said...

And I am richer for having read this post. Thanks, Dave.

Belinda said...

Being a gracious receiver is as important as giving. There cannot be a "rule" for this, except humanity. To deny the joy in someone's eyes--the delight at being a giver, is inhumane. I so agree with this counter culture post, even while knowing the cautions that accompany loosing the tight restrictions and artificial relationships we sometimes force upon ourselves and others.

Kristin said...

I think so many people forget that accepting a gift teaches the lessons of graciousness and reinforces the lessons of generosity. Thanks for sharing Dave.

Anonymous said...

You have such great stories to share and I have so many lessons to learn. Thank you so much for sharing your stories. I enjoy reading them.

Anonymous said...

I worked, for many years, for an agency which had a "don't accept gifts" from the service recipient policy. I too made Dave's mistake of insisting that I couldn't accept - for about the first year.
Then I realized that if I got out ahead of the gift giving impulse of the people I was paid to assist, they wouldn't be put in the embarassing/demeaning/awkward position of having to feel bad when I rejected their gesture.
So, as the professional relationship was developing I would take opportunities to talk about boundaries, about how to say thank you to different types of people. I would ask if they brought presents to their doctors, the people the the benefits office, etc. They knew that was a no answer, and this gave me an oppotunity to talk about the fact that while I knew quite a a bit about them, and we had a close working relationship it was professional, and so purchased gifts were not allowed.
Over the years I received many wonderful home made cards, works of art, craft projects, letters, wildflowers, and the occassional purchased items of such negligible worth that I just let it go.
In return I offered cards, notes, e-mails, something picked up from nature, a walk by the lake, a bike ride just for fun, and genuine acknowldegement of efforts, progress, etc. And occassionally I spent a slightly less negligible amount of money on a trip out for coffee, maybe a special birthday lunch, a game of pool, a special chocolate from the local shop, a cookie after a hard day.
We were, after all, in relationship, professional yes, but emotionless no.
This practice served me well. There was only 1 time in almost 20 years that I had to set an absolutely no gift ever going either way policy for a single individual who just coulnd't stop the impulse any other way. It was work, and in the end we decided that sharing smiles was the way to go!

As for Ruby....what a wonderful experience for all involved!

Kirsten Smith said...

This blog was really touching, How a young chid does a big thing to them for some one who makes a difference in their lives. the first time the gift that u don't except the gift can heart a chids feelings . This also is really touching because not to long a go a child had left my care. he went to the dollar store and got to pick his gift for his teacher, myself and another teacher. he chose things that he was interested in , but the joy on his face when I opened it was priceless his parents came up to me and said "thank you he talks so much about you and the great things you teach'.

kirsten smith said...

the blog is very touching. a simple gift to a caregiver can mean the world to a young child.it is very hard to accept a gift ,but the look on a child's face when you open it is priceless.......I recently had a boy leaving my care and went to the dollar store and picked out a gift for me. it was very cute it was a dinosaur egg that he liked but meant so much to him that he was able to give it to me.....