[Quiet Thoughts] of Earning

Photo: Moms see this arch and probably want to preserve it. Little kids want to run under it. Slightly older kids (like my boys) want to joyfully smash it and then put it back together again. I love the entire Discovery Museum, but I think this is my favorite room. Note, if you can, the wonderfully representative posters on the wall. They really took care to make every inch inclusive and welcoming. I love it. I know not all ya’ll Dear Readers are in Massachusetts, but if you are, please come visit this wonderful spot!


The high drama started as soon as I opened the door to the boy’s room. I only got three notes into the “Who wants to go to school today?” song when Ursa Minor started screaming for me to stop.

“Don’t sing that song! No more of that song ever!” He whined.


Ursa Major reached under his pillow to find the Canadian coin the Tooth Fairy had left for him. He barely had time to look it over and realize it wasn’t American currency (I was really expecting him to ask “who’s the old lady?” or something) before he climbed down from the top bunk, ran over to his piggy bank and plopped the coin in.

Ursa Minor huffed and puffed on his way to the bathroom, grumbled his way through getting dressed, stomped down the stairs to the table, put his head down while he waited.

I produced bowls and mugs, then asked them which cereal they wanted for breakfast. Ursa Minor requested his usual Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I reached for the bag, which was just about empty. It probably had a bowl-and-a-half worth of cereal in it. Major, who usually prefers Cheerios or something else, put a finger to his lips and then decided, “I think I want Cinnamon Toast Crunch this morning, too.”

But it’s my cereal!” Minor screeched. Then he took the bag and poured the entirety of it into his little bowl. Little sugared squares overflowed onto the table. He snatched them up and put them in his mouth. Major and I looked at him absolutely appalled.

“Little Sir, there is no need for that! There is plenty of cereal! There’s a whole other bag of the stuff! Why would you do that? And it’s not your cereal! It’s the house cereal! Don’t tell your brother what he can and can’t eat.”

He sulked. Major smiled as I opened up a fresh bag and poured some of the cereal into his bowl. They sat in silence.

I went about my business because I had school lunches and snacks to prepare. When I was done, I came back to a room with the overflowing bowl still overflowing, and a child staring and not eating.

“Baby, what in the world is going on? You really need to eat–”

“I want [Major’s] tooth!”

The biggest, biggest tears you’ve ever seen came out of that child’s eyes. He shook and sobbed at the injustice of it. The Tooth Fairy has visited Major four times and Minor has not a single wiggly tooth.

I told Minor that he had to stop crying. The time for his own tooth fairy visit would be soon, but not right now. Major earned his visit from the Tooth Fairy because he grew and lost his own tooth. When it was his turn, I told Minor, he’d get the same treatment. Sometimes, the balance comes a little later.

I did, however, address Major as well. He could have been more inclusive. He didn’t need to dash away his coin so quickly. He could have let his brother join in on the joy. “You did it just so your brother would be fully left out. And see, that just made things worse. Let’s show a little grace next time, sir.”

Major blushed a bit, looking down at his cereal. He apologized to his brother. I don’t think anyone was particularly satisfied.

My Quiet Thoughts this Friday are about the raw and real honesty of what happened at that table. How often have I been Minor: watching someone get a thing I have wanted. Feeling the injustice of watching them indulge in it while I can’t get so much as a glance. But then again, how protective I feel of the triumphs that I do achieve. Are they not hard won? Did I not put in the work?

The earning and the getting… they are hard things to know. It’s a hard thing to teach my sons, who often get mixed messages: there is plenty of “getting” in childhood. They “get” at Christmas and Easter and Birthdays. There is also plenty of “earning,” even if they aren’t rewarded on the spot. Sometimes, their good behavior or excellence in other areas earn them treats that come later, perhaps not formally attached to whatever good thing they do. Frankly, as suburban children, they are indulged and given stuff simply by virtue of benefiting from The Husband’s and my own accomplishments. Blessed by virtue of being.

It feels good until it makes messes like this.

We are a society that only sometimes emphasizes the earning. Thinking about the Olympics, the message is all about the earn. Do the work, listen to the coach, don’t give up, earn your spot, earn your glory. The get, in that context, is almost secondary. It is a pure, pure reflection of the earn.  Outside of that, the get matters almost above all. Do this to get [favorable college admission/best job/car/house/partner/trips/retirement]. But aren’t those things earned, too? Not always, right? It’s hard to know. It’s hard to know when you’re getting a get or earning a reward. Maybe the lines blur entirely too much as you get older. And that makes it mighty hard to teach.

I’m here for the earn, but I pray for the get. It’s a terrible thing, really, and I know I’m not the only one. It’s why the world feels so wrong and everything is upside down. I don’t know how to make it better. I just know there is a lot of truth there and I know it feels mighty rotten. If there is change to be had, may it come.

It is a Friday filled with urgency and a little bit of hope. There is energy as people rally around the youth who are gathering to march for their lives. There is optimism as we watch them create their clever signs, as they laugh and sigh together, as we adults do what we can to make a way for them and then join them ourselves. There is urgency as yet more changes come and more news flows from a government in turmoil. Such hallow leadership makes real impact on real people. Rally around your community organizations doing real work for your neighbors, seen and unseen. The Cambridge YWCA asked me to get the word out about their Stand Against Racism Campaign. They are selling Tshirts to benefit the campaign and their programming. In the absence of national leadership, be swift to love and support your local community organizations with your time, treasure and talent.

Fridays come with wishes because Fridays are a time to stop and breathe. I wish you a little time to do something kind for yourself. Take that nap. Read that book. Go get your nails done. Go out to listen to some live music. Don’t think of it as indulgence. Think of it as as self-care. The reward you earned for the work you’ve done. Enjoy it with your full heart. I wish you time to tune in to what the children are saying about who we are, who we have become and who we can become if we commit to a different future. I wish you the opportunity to take action. Write your leaders, give money to a campaign, sign up to volunteer, participate in a local march. Put yourself out there this weekend, Dear Reader. Participate in this democracy and make it just a little bit better. I wish you the joy of a good story shared in excellent company. I wish you laughter, sincere and breathtaking. I wish you warming sun and no snow on the horizon. I wish you a held hand and a loving smile.

I wish you a moment of assurance that you are being your best self. You’re at your most beautiful when you know you are doing your best work, putting your best self forward, giving the best of your talent toward something you love. When you let your passion shine through, people take note and people will do the same. That’s when your infinite beauty can make a real big difference in the world. So, choose something to love. Give it your all. Inspire others to action. Be the light for others to follow in the darkness. And remember, today and always, that you are loved. Profoundly and immeasurably.

Until Monday, Dear Reader, take care.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you for sharing the rough spots, the true moments and the learning that can be found in them.

  2. Trish says:

    I shared this story with “my kiddos” (we were talking about funny stories from when they were younger). One declared Minor “Pure genius”.

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      Not genius. Spoiled. Spoiled in the worst possible way. 🙂

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