I Don’t a Have a “Thing”

What’s your “thing”?  Mine is writing and reading. Give me a day to myself, and I’ll pack a book, a magazine, a journal, and a pen, and head over to the beach. I have a friend whose thing is photography and scrap booking. She recently told me she feels called to tell her family’s story. My husband’s thing is clearly music – it’s his part-time job, his ministry, and his hobby.

Our kids have a thing too. Actually, my daughter has a few! She loves horses, singing, knitting and crocheting. Our oldest son loves Disney and Pixar movies. He’s got entire scripts memorized, and Seth (our 3rd child) loves science. Give that boy a microscope and tweezers, and you won’t see him for the rest of the day.

But on Friday, when I took my fourth child out on a date to celebrate his seventh birthday, it dawned on him that something was missing.  After devouring a cup of Coldstone, the best ice cream on planet earth, we headed down Main Street to Toy Lab.  He had $50 to spend from my grandparents, and I was thrilled to watch him spend it.  What could be more exciting to a 7-year-old than free reign in a toy store?

Just through the front door was the Ugly Doll display. Sam slipped past it, and grabbed a basket to hold all of his loot. Then he made a bee line back to the Ugly Dolls to get the Picksey key chain he’d been waiting for.  It was $6.

We walked carefully up and down each aisle as he deliberated. For a moment he held a hula hoop. “This would be fun.” But after further thought, he put it back. “They have these at kid’s church, and I probably wouldn’t use it much at home.” [2013 update – Sam is the hula hoop champion! Last year he was the last one standing at the Busch Gardens hula hoop show down.]

Every other toy he considered found a similar fate. For one reason or another, he decided it wouldn’t be a good choice. Finally, he turned to me and asked, “Do you think G.G.’s feelings would be hurt if I didn’t spend the money? I’d rather save it for when I find something I really, really want.”

He handed the clerk a $20 bill for his Picksey key chain, collected the change and led me out of the store. When we hit the sidewalk, Sam’s shoulders slumped, and he looked at the ground, clearly feeling sad.

“What’s the matter, Sam?”

“I don’t have a thing. Everyone else has a thing, but I don’t.”

He was right, I guess.  We hadn’t yet figured out what he loves and what he’s passionate about, and that made birthdays and Christmas difficult for Sam. Whenever people asked us what he’d like, we’d strain to find an answer. And although he’s always grateful, there’s a subtle sense of disappointment in every gift. If you didn’t know Sam, you’d probably miss it, but it’s a parent’s joy to bless their kids, and we’ve never really experienced that gift-giving bliss with him. When someone doesn’t have a “thing,” it’s hard to give a gift.

Outside Toy Lab, I squatted down next to my sweet boy, looked up at his big sad blue eyes and asked if he wanted to get a slice of pizza and talk about it. Maybe together we could figure it out.

Sipping our soda in cushy booth at Pantellini’s, waiting for our pizza, we talked about the school year.

“What’s your favorite class this year, Sam?”

“Hmmm…Oh, I know.  Latin.”

“Latin? Really?”  I was surprised. He doesn’t strike me as the Latin kind of kid.

“What is it about Latin that you like?”

“I like Ms. Josie. She’s a really nice teacher.”

“Oh, I see. Okay, well what I meant was, of all your classes this year, which one has the most fun things to do?”

“Well…let’s see…Oh! I love 50 States and GeoGang.”  This was more like it. Both are very hands-on, project-based classes.

“Great. What do you like about these classes?”

“Miss Elaine is such a great teacher, and I love Miss Angie, and my friends are in both classes.”

He was missing the point.  Or so I thought.  Actually, for the first few moments, I was missing the point, but then it dawned on me.

“Sam! Your thing is people! You love people, Sam.  That’s your thing.”

He looked up with a huge smile, and his blue eyes sparkled with an epiphany. That’s it! He is all about the people, and he knew that I was right. He’d found his thing.

“I know what I want to be when I grow up,” he said, little finger in the air and mouth open wide.  “I want to drive an ice cream truck. Then I can go to all different houses and meet the kids, and they’ll be so happy when I give them ice cream.”

“That’s a great idea, Sam.  You would be the best ice cream truck driver.”

In light of our revelation, it was no surprise that the highlight of our date, for Sam, was our trip to Picasso’s Moon, our favorite little knitting shop. We each brought something to knit and sat in the cozy shop, chatting with the ladies. Sam soaked in their attention, and they were pleased to give it. Who wouldn’t want to gush over an adorable little boy who likes to knit?

He hasn’t spent the rest of his birthday money, and I’m not sure he ever will, but he got the best gift he’s ever received.  For his 7th birthday, Sammy got his “thing.”

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.