I’ve written before about how much stuff American kids have — and for many it’s never enough. They want more. The same can be said of many US adults. People throwing punches and trampling each other to score a midnight bargain on Black Friday. Packs of idiots… I mean “early adopters”… spending the night on the sidewalk to buy the latest overpriced, overhyped i-whatever because they have to have it. They want it, right now, before anyone else.
By comparison, Mtuseni — and his family — have virtually nothing. Yet he never complains. The many things he lacks don’t even fall into the category of wants; they’re needs. If anybody had a rationale to ask me for stuff 24/7, it’s him. But it doesn’t happen. I send him two boxes of clothes each year, and he’s always thrilled and grateful. I’d send much more if South African law would allow it — just to see him happy, to know he’s dressed warmly, to help him make a good impression as his world expands.
So I was surprised to get his brief e-mail this week asking for clothes. The request itself didn’t surprise me; he knows I shop the end-of-season sales now to get him things for the approaching fall and winter in South Africa. What struck me was how the request was framed: “Bud, I need a favour from you. Can you please not give me allowance this year. I just need jeans please.”
Here’s a kid who has very little, offering to give up his allowance so I can get him some pants. Mtuseni knows money has been very tight on my side the past year, although I’ve made sure that it’s never affected him. I can pass up movies and pricey meals and new clothes and other “wants” for a short time while I pay his tuition and expenses and cover some critical needs, like the dentist. That’s what parents do, and I feel richer for the experience. But just the fact that Mtuseni made this offer is one more confirmation of what an incredible kid he is. When I asked how he would function without the allowance (there’s no way he could) Mtuseni said he would “be strong and sacrifice.”
The yearly amount I spend on his allowance far exceeds the price of a few pairs of jeans… even if, as he told me last year when shopping, they “must be Levi’s.” 🙂 And I actually bought all his clothes a couple weeks ago. I’ll send the package as I usually do in April as summer fades away down there, or hopefully bring the stuff with me on a visit. So I told him “Don’t worry. You’re covered for clothes. And allowance. Just focus on your work, you have a busy year ahead.”
Along with pants and sweaters (which he loves), I got Mtuseni a thick winter jacket marked down 80% that will keep him warm, but drive the Express Mail charges through the roof. Still, maybe I’ll pick up a couple more pairs of jeans. Because, unlike the kids I see here every day whining about their wants, a kid willing to sacrifice the little he has to get his needs met deserves something more.
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