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What My Daughter Taught Me About Giving

Earlier this month, Fable came home from school with a slip of paper that included her own handwritten list of facts she had learned earlier that day about water and the places in the world without access. Her teacher felt it important to involve her class in a charity, so she educated the children to educate their parents and collect money to purchase a well through charitywater.org, which is an INCREDIBLE nonprofit—100 percent of their donations go directly to water project costs.

"It's for girls, Mom. Did you know that there are girls that can't go to school because they have to carry water for their villages? ISN'T THAT UNFAIR? Mom, we need to do something."

She was furious.

I was grateful.

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In all of the years talking to my kids about getting involved—about privilege and gratitude and contributing to help others who are born without the basics that we have been blessed with—this was the first time IT HIT HOME with Fable. I couldn't even get a word in, she had so much to say and so much she needed to tell me.

"Did you know that lack of clean water kills more people than all forms of violence, including war?"

"I don't think I—"

"Did you know that in some villages girls have to walk 6 miles a day, 20 hours a week, to get water for their villages and can't go to school and the boys can go to school and they don't have to get the water!?"

"I didn't kno—"

"We need to raise $1200 so we can buy a well. Can you give money, Mama? HOW MUCH CAN WE GIVE!?"

They have far more power than I do to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others.

My knee-jerk reaction was to PayPal what I could and thank her for speaking up with such an impassioned plea. But then I thought, wait ... what would that do? I mean, giving money is GREAT for adults. But when a child is passionate about charity? Let her STAY passionate about charity.

And so I told her to do something about it.

"You want change? You want to raise money? Do it, girl. Tell me how I can help you."

The longer I parent, the more I realize how capable all children are of doing amazing things with very little adult help. They write their own letters when an issue persists at school. They speak their own minds when they want to disagree. It isn't my job to speak for them so I don't.

Will I go over their letters? If they want me to, yes. Will I help them with their homework? If they ask for my help, of course. But I believe, more than anything, that it is not my job to intervene unless there is no other way.

And in backing off, I have watched both Archer and Fable take the reins both at school and at home. Because it isn't my life. It isn't my charity. It isn't my presidential campaign. And while I support them wholeheartedly, I also believe that they have far more power than I do to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others. They deserve to take full responsibility for the work they do and the words they use and the plans they make and the money they raise.

"What can you do to raise money?" I asked Fable.

She thought for a moment and then ...

"I can make beautiful jewelry and sell it for $20 a piece!"

"Great! I'll buy a couple pieces and I bet your family will, as well."

So Fable composed an email, naming facts that she had learned from the charity water website and sent it to everyone in the family. Two weeks later, she has made seven pieces of jewelry and raised $370, thanks to generous donations made by family who were so moved by her letter, they gave more than the required $20.

When I showed her how much she made (WAY more than if I had just donated) she couldn't believe it.

"Fable! You DID that, girl! Because of YOU and YOUR letter and YOUR amazing jewelry, this money will find its way into the villages of girls like you. You have the power to change lives and YOU ARE USING IT."

She hugged me.

I told her how proud I was of her and how excited I was to see what she does next. With her art and her voice and her heart.

She smiled, retrieved her bead tray from her room and came back into the kitchen nook where I was doing work of my own.

"I think I'm going to make another bracelet," she said. "In case someone else wants to buy one for charity."

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Days later, Fable and a friend at school started a "writing club" for first graders. They created a sign-up sheet and have since signed up 13 students with no help of teachers or parents. They meet on Thursdays at recess and write together in front of one of the classrooms. On their sign up sheet it says, "Writing is magic. Hooray!"

With her art and her voice and her heart.

Photograph by: Rebecca Woolf

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