$5 Well Spent – Teaching My Kids About Homelessness

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The things we do for our kids, right? My oldest son had a competition in Minneapolis in March – he’s a competitive speedcuber. Meaning, he does the Rubik’s cube and he competes with other kids to try to do it faster than them. You heard me. It’s insane. We drive for over an hour and stay in Minneapolis for two days so he can solve a cube in twenty seconds – it makes absolutely no sense. But, he loves it, so we spend exponentially more time in the car and waiting between events than he spends solving. If you’re interested in seeing what this looks like, you can check out my instagram.

When I am away from home, I end up being nervous and uncomfortable – because that’s just who I am. This time, it was just me and my oldest son Noah, 13, and my middle daughter Bethany, 11. When we had a break in Noah’s events (because there are more cubes than the standard 3×3, and hours in between events), we wandered around downtown Minneapolis to find the nearest restaurant that both of my kids would eat at without complaining.

We must have looked lost, though, because a kind lady asked if we needed directions. Maybe it’s because I had my phone out with my GPS up, maybe it’s because I looked anxious. She pointed us to the nearest Jimmy John’s, which was down the block. The kids ate without complaining (which never happens), and we started our 5 or 6 block walk back to the hotel where Noah’s competition was being held.

While we were on our way back, an older gentleman on a bench locked eyes with me. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he said.

I stopped walking, and smiled at him. “Good afternoon,” I said.

To be honest, most of what else he said after this initial greeting was unintelligible. Within a few seconds, I was able to identify that this was a homeless man, and he was about to ask me for money. He said something about teaching my kids respect, and he said something about how he’d like to have a meal like my family just had. Why did I stop? I shouldn’t have stopped! I shouldn’t have made eye contact.

I looked at my kids. They were looking at me. They were waiting to see what I’d do. Would I give this man money? This man, with a cane, a lazy eye, and a stain on his pants. This man, who saw that we were all holding Jimmy John’s cups.

I paused and took a minute to collect myself. Then I smiled, opened my wallet, and gave the man the cash that I had left – less than $5, mostly in change.

Noah and Bethany then had thousands of questions for the remainder of the walk back.

“[family member] said that we shouldn’t give money to homeless people like that because they’ll just buy drugs or alcohol,” Noah said.

“And if that’s what he chooses to do with it, that’s what he does,” I explained. “I gave the money to him. It’s his to decide what to do with it. If I’m going to give, I have to be okay with not having control over what that money is used for.”

His eyebrows took a perplexed stance. The wheels were turning.

“But you only gave him a couple dollars,” my daughter chimed in. “He can’t even buy a meal with that.”

“If everybody that passed him today gave him some spare change, he’d be able to get himself a hot meal and a place to stay.”

To be honest, I’ve thought about this man a hundred times since the competition. I’ve wondered if he is still sitting on that same bench. If he ever got that hot meal he was hoping for. I’ve wondered where he goes when it gets bitterly cold. Does he have family somewhere that has given up on him?

Maybe the man has a place to stay now. Maybe he found someone generous and they put him up for the night or helped him to find a job. Maybe he’s been reunited with family members that he hadn’t seen in a decade. Maybe he’s been able to have a hot shower.

I can tell my kids still think about it, too. I hope that in seeing an act of kindness, they can learn to help others and be kind to others without judging, and regardless of circumstances. I want them to be able to give freely without contingencies placed on what the money will be used for.  They need to see that they only need to do something small to help make a huge difference in someone’s life.

act of kindness, circumstances, giving freely, giving money to the homeless, giving when asked, hard lessons, homelessness, life lessons