As parents, we try so hard to be consistent when it comes to teaching our children life lessons. We preach about how hard work and dedication pay off. The importance of treating others how we want to be treated and if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. But am I the only mom who wonders if my words are actually making an impact? Am I talking to myself or is my son actually internalizing what I say?
On a chilly autumn afternoon not too long ago, my son showed me that he does listen, he does internalize, and he will grow to become the type of person that works hard for what he wants in life and gives back to those less fortunate.
It was toward the end of September, my birthday had just passed and it was one of those perfect autumn days. The air was crisp and cold. Warm enough to wear just a light jacket or hooded sweatshirt but cool enough that a cup of hot chai tea felt like heaven in my hands. My son and I were visiting my favorite flea market just over the Pennsylvania border. Vendors from all over the local area flocked to the roughly paved parking lot and long, open barns to set up tables and sell their products. If you could imagine it, it was sold here.
My favorite tables showcased jewelry, candles, and handcrafted wooden signs and figurines. My son enjoyed the clothes, sunglasses, and toys, of course. We didn’t always buy something, but simply enjoyed strolling up and down the long tables, meeting people, and smelling all the smells of the market. Food carts were lined up selling turkey legs, sausage sandwiches, and our personal favorite, soft New York pretzels covered in salt.
Buying a pretzel marked our halfway point in the day. We walked through all of the outdoor vendors, which brought us to the pretzel stand. We purchased one pretzel, a small cup of mustard for me, and a lemonade to share. We sat at the same picnic table and took turns pulling off soft, delicious bits of salted dough.
After our snack, we stopped by the small farm outside the last barn where my son could feed goats, watch the piglets roll in the mud, and wave to the cows that were always too far away to get a good look at. Sometimes, musicians would attend the market, playing on their banjos, tambourines, and other homemade instruments to the delight of patrons. Other local organizations would gather too, handing out pamphlets and other information.
On this particular day, there was a local church outreach program trying to build their congregation, following, and youth group program. They had a small table and tent set up next to the 4H Club. They had T-shirts, bracelets, necklaces, and tote bags lining the tables and hanging from the bars of the canopy.
As we strolled by, the young man holding the brochures handed me one, as I handed him a five-dollar bill. He gestured for my son to choose something from the table. My son walked over and plucked a yellow bracelet with black writing that read, “Jesus loves me” on it. He loved bracelets and had a collection at home. I found his choice rather curious since we don’t come from an overly religious background.
We both thanked the man and shook his hand, wishing him luck, before continuing our journey. It didn’t take long for my son to ask, “What does that mean?” I laughed. “If you didn’t know what it meant, why did you choose it?” I asked. He said he liked the colors. “Who is Jesus?” he asked. Wow. This was not exactly a conversation I was prepared to have at the flea market, but I always encourage my son to ask questions, so I figured I’d give it my best shot and keep it simple.
I explained that Jesus was a person that people believed sacrificed a lot for the people he loved and that he loved all people, regardless of their choices. My son listened intently as I continued. I ended by saying that it’s believed that Jesus helped people that needed him and felt they had no one else to turn to. “So, that bracelet is a reminder that no matter what, remember that Jesus loves you.”
My son made an inquisitive face, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Okay,” as he slipped the rubber bracelet around his small wrist. Our day at the market was coming to a close. We had walked through all of the interior buildings, buying some candy, looking at art and reading funny bumper stickers.
Toward the end of the last row of tables was a small produce stand. A rather frazzled looking woman stood behind the table. A few other patrons were there, eyeing up the cucumbers and whispering about the quality of the peppers. As we approached, she looked up and hurriedly asked, “What do you need?” I was slightly taken aback by her rough demeanor and said, “We’re just looking, thank you.”
A young girl sat off to the side, behind the table, on a wooden crate. She had a small sketch pad on her lap and she was drawing. She was probably my son’s age, maybe a year younger. I watched as she used a pink pencil to draw a rather detailed flower, in what looked like a field. Her strokes were short but purposeful. She had a steady, strong hand. My concentration broke with the tip of her pencil. She reached into her small bag, searching for something—a sharpener, I guessed.
More people were approaching the table and the woman was getting more flustered. “Get up little girl, get up!” she yelled as she grabbed the little girl abruptly by her elbow and brought her to a standing position. She tossed plastic bags in her direction and nodded her head vigorously, “Bag the food. Bag the food. How many times do I have to tell you to stop with your silly drawing? We’re here to work!”
She grabbed the money from the customer’s outreached hands as the little girl feverishly placed potatoes and onions into the bag. I didn’t know if my son had noticed the exchange, but how could you not? I knew for sure when he placed his small hand in mine and squeezed it—our little code for “I’m scared.” I squeezed back—“It’s okay.”
I decided not to buy anything that day, but as we strolled away I felt resistance from my son—he wasn’t moving. “What’s wrong?” I asked him. He didn’t answer at first. He just stood there, staring down at our clasped hands. Before I could repeat my question, he slipped his hand free, removing the bracelet from his wrist.
I watched as he carefully walked back toward the produce stand, placing the bracelet on the young girl’s abandoned notepad. Neither she nor her mother noticed. I’m sure I looked confused as he walked back in my direction. “But your collection,” I said. He smiled and simply said, “I think she needs it more than me,” as he began walking again ahead of me.