Random acts of Starbucks

So we ran out of coffee beans this morning. This is a bad thing. My children stayed conspicuously absent during our usually chaotic morning routine. They knew that a mommy void of caffeine was not to be trifled with.

We all marched into the car at the ridiculously early hour of 7am so we’d have time to stop at Starbucks, get to the eye doctor to pick up Levi’s new specks, and still get to school by 8. The drive-thru was packed so I decided to run inside for my fix. But alas, the number of customers in line so far outweighed the number of baristas, I made the call that waiting was not an option.

I got back in the car, sans java, my children were horrified. But then a ray of sunshine emerged. The drive thru lane was nearly empty. I revved the engine and high-tailed it into the line, nearly running over a crossing patron and a family of quail. But it was all an illusion. By the time I turned the corner and got sandwiched into the line, I saw that there were still four cars ahead of me. I calmly ordered my double tall non-fat cap and a bagel for Eli, who had once again forgotten to eat breakfast. I tried to breathe deeply and still my anxiousness. The boys remained silent in the back seat.

I nearly lost it when the woman in front of me seemed to be carrying on a deep and thoughtful conversation at the pick-up window. “Come on,” I thought. “Are you never going to drive away?”

Finally she did and it was my turn to secure my caffeinated drug of choice. I held out a $5 bill, knowing that my total was $4.18. The window lady just smiled at me. We were late and getting more behind as she vapidly flashed her pearly whites. Why wouldn’t she just take my money and free us from this eternal hell?

“The lady before you paid for your stuff,” she happily announced. I was dumbfounded. “She did?” I stammered. “Why that’s…unbelievable.” My kids started giggling gleefully. My fin waved freely in the soft windy breeze. “Well, take this and pay for the guy behind me,” I asserted rather joyfully in spite of my previous grumpiness.

Some random stranger had miraculously altered my entire morning by surprising me with coffee and a bagel. The Starbucks lady told me it happens all the time. My eldest son insisted that he hears stories about this very occurrence frequently. I guess I must be out of touch. I couldn’t actually remember the last time a stranger even smiled at me.

As we buoyantly pulled away, my son reminded me that in the Jewish religion, anonymous giving was way up there on the mitzvah scale. I wondered if the chain we’d started would go on indefinitely. Maybe the guy I popped for did the same for the gal behind him. Maybe the cycle of giving had been going on long before we ever arrived, and maybe it would continue forever.

I fantasized about that for a few seconds. But then reality came crashing back. No, someone somewhere was going to break the chain. But that’s okay. Because I’ll remember this day, and so will my kids. And we will most definitely be the ones who start the chain next time. It will be we who remind some poor soul in line behind us that today has the potential to be outstanding, if only we choose to make it that way.

Show a little damn gratitude, will ya?

Apparently beggars CAN be choosers!

Holiday cheer? A time to give? What’s up with charities this year? Has anyone noticed that everyone who’s asking for handouts this yuletide season has conditions? “Please drop off any unwrapped, newly purchased, non-age specific, genderless toys by December 15th.” Ok, seriously? This is getting ridiculous. I mean every year we try to go through the boys’ toy closets and make piles of good stuff that they’ve outgrown or no longer want to play with. We talk about how important it is to give things away and the boys have to struggle sometimes with wanting to keep stuff that they need to let go of. But they are learning valuable lessons about sharing, giving and helping those less fortunate.

Well, apparently no one wants anything even “gently” used this holiday season. I find that incredibly offensive. It’s not that I’m not willing to buy new gifts for those in need. It’s just that I think they should be grateful for used items as well. Has everyone lost their minds? I mean, the poor and downtrodden only want new items? What’s that about?

I mean, we’re hurting this year, like everyone around us. I’m shopping at resale stores and garage sales. My kids had a much scaled down version of Chanukah this year. But while it’s okay for me to scrounge and save, I should go to Target and shell out full retail for a brand new Barney-mobile for some nameless kid who only wants new toys this year? That’s more than absurd. It makes me just say, “Oh well, guess I just wont give anything.”

That cannot be the message charities are hoping to convey. But why then all the hubbub about “new” or “unopened” toys? My kids have a plethora of rummaged board games, some of which show serious signs of age. But we have just as much fun playing Monopoly with the hand-drawn “Park Place” card we scribbled in yellow marker over a random two of clubs, than anyone playing with the authentic printed version. Come on!

It reminds me of all the times I’ve attempted to remedy the hunger situation when I encounter it in my path. I’ve offered leftovers to people begging on the street. I’ve purchased a dozen bagels or donuts for some sign-carrying veteran asking for food. I’ve even handed over half a bag of groceries upon passing someone desperate off the freeway ramp in L.A. once. And do you know what each of those people did with my food? They threw it out. Because they didn’t want food. They wanted money, for booze or drugs or cigarettes or whatever. And yes, that soured me a bit on trying to help out. So now, I give to reputable organizations. I make tax-deductible contributions whenever I can and I try my best to ignore the sad souls who approach me and ask for aid. I’m sure it looks heartless and callous to my kids. But thrice burned…

It’s the same damn thing. People need to be encouraged to give. But to give what they can, which may not necessarily be ideal or perfect for the person they’re trying to help. People need to appreciate whatever they get. Am I the only one whose ever heard of the proverbial beggar who couldn’t be a chooser? Maybe it does make a better Christmas for a kid to get a brand new Star Wars Lego set. But when people are struggling to do that for their own kids, they’re not likely to do it for a stranger’s.

I’ve taught my children to be gracious and appreciative whenever anyone gives them anything. If they don’t like it, if they already have one, if it comes broken in two, they just smile, say thank you and offer a warm, grateful hug. Maybe we ought to consider teaching that to the myriad of non-profits out there who are only looking for perfectly packaged, officially licensed, unused goodies this Christmas.

A symmetry boggles over a snag.


This being Thanksgiving weekend, I started to think about all the things I’m thankful for:

I’m thankful that my family is well and happy (most of the time).

I’m thankful for garage door openers and TV remote controls.

I’m thankful that my youngest son who was born blind is able to see clearly.

I’m thankful that it’s not 110 degrees out anymore.

I’m thankful for antibiotics.

I’m thankful for Sprouts, Fresh N Easy, and Trader Joes.

I’m thankful my kids love each other (most of the time).

I’m thankful McDonalds is an annual treat for my kids and not a daily destination. (and I’m thankful that my kids are afraid to venture into those germy ball pit areas).

I’m thankful to be doing rewarding work.

I’m thankful on no homework nights.

I’m thankful my kids love and respect their teachers.

I’m thankful shoulder pads haven’t come back in yet. (Remeber Norma Kamali?)

I’m thankful my husband takes an equal role in child rearing (most of the time).

I’m thankful that we have a solid roof over our heads and clothes on our backs.

I’m thankful for a glass of wine every now and again when my children’s whining gets to be too much for me.

I’m thankful for Mr. Clean eraser sponges (Are they amazing or what?)

I’m thankful that my children are out of diapers, done with bottles, and can make their own lunches.

I’m thankful for itunes.

I’m thankful for my mother-in-law (most of the time).

I’m thankful for my laptop which keeps me productive during hours of carpool waiting.

I’m thankful for Facebook which has allowed me to catch up with friends from my youth.

I’m thankful for “Love and Logic” CDs which are teaching me better parenting techniques.

I’m thankful for resale shops.

I’m thankful for no-pudge fudge, Weight Watcher 2 point brownies, and mint Skinny Cows.

I’m thankful that we have family in town (most of the time).

It might sound silly or corny or way too Oprah, but sit down once and a while and ask yourself, “what am I truly grateful for?” You might surprise yourself.

Happy Thanksgiving,

The thank-you card rule

My sister-in-law is a genius. She initiated the “Thank you card rule” when her kids (now 12 and 14) were barely able to sign their own names. Before I was a mom, I thought it was a silly, hyper-controlling parental power tactic. But man did I ever change my tune the minute my kids’ chicken scratch was even remotely legible.

It’s a simple rule: you can’t play with a gift until the thank you card is signed, sealed and fit to be sent. It’s one of those non-negotiable rules in our house, the kind my kids wouldn’t even think of challenging. So this past weekend, when my eldest son turned 9, I realized what a debt I owe to my husband’s sibling.

“Mom,” my son said earnestly, “I’d like to open my presents if that’s okay with you.” He had shown enormous restraint, having gotten back from his chef’s party at My Dinner Kitchen several hours earlier. “I promise I wont play with anything until I’ve written a thank-you note.”

Between you and me, I’m still kind of shocked that my kids never even balk at this delayed gratification contrivance. I mean, even I heard that crystal growing set and lightening lab calling his name rather unyieldingly. But he’ll get to them — eventually. After he’s acknowledged the kindness and generosity of his friends and family members.

He might even learn a bit of true humility and appreciation from this exercise. Wow, isn’t it cool when parenting actually works the way you want it to?