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online shopping for moral qualities

I started a new rule today that Harvey is not allowed to look at any online stores. My mom asked us to go on her Amazon wish-list and show Harvey three play tents so he could pick out a color. He started pointing to unrelated items on the sidebar, saying he wanted cars and trucks and legos and other unrelated items. This is a bottomless pit that goes on and on forever; the internet is absolutely MADE UP of UNRELATED ITEMS.

These days I talk to Harvey a lot about "demandingness." As in, don't ask me for juice while I'm serving you toast. When I make a lego house for you, take a breath before asking for a garage. It's probably too much to expect him to notice my effort and care in his service, but at the very least he can learn some habits (like speaking in full sentences) that piss me off a little bit less.

In the same vein I have been scanning the mail for catalogues to file directly into the recycling. Do not pass Harvey, do not extract $100 dollars. But when the World Vision catalogue came a few months ago I couldn't be so harsh. I brought it to Harvey and Zion so they could ooh and aah over all the cute animal pictures. Then I heard my self say something dramatic. "You can pick out any gift in this catalogue to give to a child in Africa."

When I said it they were looking at a $30 flock of chickens. I didn't expect Harvey to jump at the $75 goat!

"$75 is a little bit expensive," I explained to Harvey (after I explained again very clearly that the goat would be going to Africa and not by way of our house.)

"I have some money in my piggy bank," he said. "I could give it to you."

Then he asked me to get down his piggy bank, and he asked me to help open it, and he pulled out a handful of nickels and quarters.

I tried to show him all homeschooly how many quarters makes a dollar, but he wanted nothing to do with putting them in stacks. He just kept grabbing handfulls of money out of his bank and handing it to me, as if to say, Not enough? How about now? Still not enough? How about now?

In the end we filled a mason jar with coins and took it to the coin-star machine at Stop&Shop. He helped me put them in and saw a receipt print out.

"Does the paper say about our goat?" he asked.

"No," I explained, "We have to put this money on the computer and buy the goat on the computer at home."

"Oh. Okay."

At home I made a big production of buying the goat online. I showed Harvey a video of a family whose goat had changed their lives.

"Is that the girl who got our goat?" he asked.

"No, they already have a goat." I said. "Someone like them will get our goat."

A week later a catalogue came from Episcopal Relief and Development. It also had a goat on the cover, held by another adorable African girl."

"That's the girl who got our goat!" Harvey exclaimed.

I was so bowled over by his joy and exuberance that I didn't stop to correct him.

I guess I felt pretty smug about Harvey's generous spirit. Until I noticed that every time he sees someone who looks African he now says, "Hey! She looks like the girl who got our goat!"

So. Is Harvey overwhelmingly greedy or overflowing with compassion? The answer is Yes. Or more truthfully, the answer is he's three and he feels every desire big big, whether it's selfish materialism or selfless generosity. And even these labels are false distinctions I create. Since money has no concrete value to him, why shouldn't he ask for everything he wants and everything everyone else wants too?

I try to teach him many things, but "the value of money" has been low on my list. To tell the truth I'm a little ambivalent about it myself. I want him to get excited about getting gifts, because it makes me happy. I also want him to abound in compassion. I don't hold those things in opposition, though perhaps I should. He certainly doesn't.

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