Pay It Forward
I’ve had mixed feeling about the whole pay it forward movement. Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE the idea of doing kind deeds for strangers. I enjoy the unexpected show of goodwill and kindness that I can plop into someone’s day. But when you get into the weird showiness of posting about it on social media or telling people about it…I don’t know. It feels disingenuous. It takes the beauty out of it a little.
But here I am, the girl that’s about to tell you how I paid it forward recently.
Of course I’m going to defend this disclosure with something deep and soul search-y. A few months ago, I waivered on just how to talk about local charity and the act of paying it forward on social media. A friend of mine had posted about a charity close to her heart that was in immediate need of donations, and I knew the angle I wanted to use was the right way to reach my business’ Facebook audience of about 25k. So I wrote about how I have a certain amount of money budgeted each month for the act of paying it forward. It’s not a lot. Just enough to sometimes make a difference to someone. I’ve used that money to buy underwear for Foster Fairies when they were doing a campaign or slipped it into a book on single moms and budgeting (near and dear to my heart) at the library, or to create care packages for homeless women with sanitary products and a toothbrush and paste. Sometimes a great idea or opportunity appears to me serendipitously. Sometimes it’s the 30th of the month and I’m struggling to stay open minded enough to find a great way to gift that money.
But a few weeks ago I was out to dinner with my 14 year old son, enjoying the gift of his company because I know soon that his moody teenage self will HATE the idea of dinner in public with his gross mom. But for now, I’m soaking up every minute of “mom can we go out to eat?” With him, the answer to, “mom can we…” is always yes. “…go play basketball” at 9 pm? Yes. “Go to the movies to see…” a god awful three hour superhero movie? Get your shoes on, buddy, the movie starts in 20 minutes.
So we were engulphed in a hilarious conversation about casting actors to play the people in his life when Hollywood makes a movie about him (I love his dreamer heart). As we giggled about The Rock’s role in his autobiographical film and Zach Efron playing his uncle (yes, please), I noticed a table that filled up behind him. It appeared to be a young-ish grandma and her four grandkids that were all in the early elementary school age range. They were well behaved but also having fun. She was fully engaged in them in that moment. Chatting with them about their day, coloring with them, laughing with them. And not once did she get out her phone. Burgers, fries and sodas all around for her grandbabies, and she laughed and conversed with them as they awaited their food. I knew right then and there that I would buy their dinner. It was mid-month and I didn’t have another idea to pay it forward yet, so picking up their tab felt right.
As I pondered how to get their check without grandma knowing, an inner struggle took over regarding my son. Talking about the tiny bit of charity I do feels icky. Those gestures, as far as I was concerned, should be private. I wasn’t doing them for recognition. The things I do are quiet and as anonymous as I can make them. I do them simply because I am blessed in my life, and want to give a tiny blessing to someone else in a random way. But the sweet boy I raised sitting across from me SHOULD know what I do. He should know that giving something to someone who might not give back to you or who might not know you have given to them at all is what it is all about. Selflessness.
So once we decided Robert Downey Jr. would play my boyfriend in the movie of his life, I leaned in to whisper to my son, “I’m going to pay for their dinner tonight,” motioning to the table behind him. He glanced over his shoulder and asked why. “Those kids are so well behaved. And that grandma seem like a good grandma. She seems so happy to be with them right now.”
Teenagers are funny. The same statement could net a myriad of responses based on the horrifying amount of hormones and teenage angst flowing through their cerebral cortex at that given moment. He pondered what I had told him briefly, and said the thing I would have never expected but also what was one of the most important things he’s ever said to me: “I want to do that too when I have a real job and money. That’s awesome, mom.”
Parenting win. I mean, being seen as a decent human being is a true struggle as a parent. Most days I think my son sees me as a silly girl (he’s nearly a foot taller than me right now) who goes to yoga a lot and has a bunch of weird jobs. Our kids don’t know in the moment that we’re influencing them. The tiny seeds we sow while they’re young will hopefully be the good seeds like picking up some random trash in a state park and not the time we used our potty words on the guy who stole our parking spot at the grocery store. We never know when they’re absorbing our actions and words so having a tiny nugget of “That’s awesome, mom” was something I was high on for days.
And then it happened. Grandma ordered shakes. No, grandma ordered LARGE shakes for the table. Hilarious, right? Just my financial luck. In the end, I flagged down their waiter, told him want I wanted to do and that I wanted it to be done quietly. I was able to slip out of the restaurant before she knew that I had paid the bill. And truth be told, the bill including the five shakes (did I mention they were large shakes???) still totaled less than what I budget monthly for my Pay It Forward personal challenge so I still had a little money to sprinkle some kindness into the rest of the month for someone else.
And for the record, my son chose Scarlett Johansen to play me in his movie. So, I’ve got that going for me.