Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Search for Gordon: A Family, Giving & Shopping Adventure

Before our third child came, I am embarrassed to admit it, but my wife and I spent some decent time watching a couple seasons of the TV show 7th Heaven. The Camden family stories resolve in the style of Leave It To Beaver and the fuzzy simplicity of a seven kid family is sometimes a little saccharine. But one of the family principles relates to the giving of gifts.

It's one of the Christmas episodes, I believe, and the family draws names for giving gifts and each person's gift they give for Christmas is not something that they buy at the store. Instead, the rule is that the gift has to be something that you already own, make or do.

For the past couple years our daughter, Linden (at the age of three and then four), has wanted to give a gift to her younger brother,Shepherd. In Camden family-fashion we encouraged her to give him something she already owned, make something or do something. She has opted the past two years to give him something she already has - always thoughtful to consider what he might truly like.

This past Christmas, our daughter wanted to give a gift for her brother his favorite train from her Thomas the Train set. She gave him Gordon.

Not only was he so excited to receive Gordon, she fully embraced the transfer of ownership. She would ask him if she could play with it, and she regularly checked in with him to see if he was enjoying the train.

In the snowy spring Gordon took a trip outside. Gordon stopped working in a way that a change of batteries could not repair. Gordon was kaput.

Shepherd still played with Gordon all the time, he just couldn't chug along the track.

Linden was sad that the train she gave no longer worked. It was her gift to him and it was sad to her to see him not being able to enjoy it for all of it's potential ability.

Months after it's end, she came up with a plan. It was soon going to be her birthday and she thought it would be nice for him to get a present. She knew she would be getting many gifts from her family and birthday party, that she wanted to give him a gift as well.

It's not our practice to buy gifts for our other kids when it is not their birthday. We think it's good for our children to let it be someone else's special time. Yet, it was refreshing to see this attitude of love and giving, and didn't want to stifle her generosity.

Having collected a modest amount of money in her piggy bank over the years (whether getting coins from her grandparents, taking coins from our end tables, or getting a dollar here or there from who knows where), she  wanted to buy her brother a new Gordon train to replace the one he had broke earlier in the year.

When she had shared this desire with her grandfather weeks previously he had decided to supplement her operation and passed some one dollar bills to her. He did this on a few occasions.

The day between her real birthday and birthday party we went on the hunt. Shepherd joined Linden and I loaded up, Linden had stocked up a snap wallet with bills and coins. So the adventure began.

The Thomas The Train market is flooded with way too many trains. It's not like there is a dozen different trains, there are dozens upon dozen. In addition to there being so many different trains, there are also different types of track with their own train types. We have the Trackmaster series, the trains have batteries and move along a plastic track. There is also a wooden series, a mini "take and carry" series, and probably a few more.

We started our adventure at Toys R' Us. At Toys R' Us, Thomas The Train had quite the shelf space allocated but the shelves stock was thin, picked over, and consisted primarily of trains that neither of the kids had heard of or had much interest in. The probably had 20 Dart trains (a character who neither of the kids were sure they had seen before), and a lot of Diesel 10 trains. Diesel 10 is a mean train on the island who takes scrap metal and old trains to the smelter works. This was not what Linden or Shepherd were interested in.

I had anticipated our trip to be a one stop shop adventure, but with only a choice of Dart and Diesel 10 we took our journey to Target.

Target had a smaller shelf space allotted for trains, but far more options. Unfortunately, most of the trains they had were ones already a part of our collection. In addition, they also had many trains from the feature-length movie Thomas & Friends: King of the Railway. There were many Stephen, Caitlyn, and Connor trains. All three of these trains looked very fun, but since King of the Railway (we found out later in the evening when did a little research) was not going to be out until September this wasn't really a substitute for the broken Gordon. Although, Linden seriously considered purchasing Connor. There's a teenage boy at our church named Connor she really likes and Connor the train had passenger cars, and nice pale teal color she liked.

We didn't buy at train at Target, but Shepherd had a surprise blow-out diaper and since the adventure was continuing and I didn't have a diaper bag I did buy a box of diapers and a new pair of shorts for Shepherd. Hooray surprise trip to the family bathroom.

We were Walmart bound and I told the kids it was the last stop.

I hate going to Walmart. I knew I could find Gordon the train online, and had I been buying it myself would have been prone to start and end my shopping online. But online shopping didn't give Linden the shopping experience she was looking for. Additionally, I had no problem with her giving her money to a person at a checkout register, but the experience would be lost if I put on my credit card and she gave me the money.

At Walmart, after we played with some large Superman toys in a center display aisle, we found the mismatched and unorganized Thomas The Train section. Far less appealing in it's presentation than Target and Toys R Us. Yet, in the midst of all it's mismatched stacking the options were wide.

There were no Darts, Diesel 10s, or Connors. Instead they just had a wide variety of the trains the kids liked. This wasn't the leftovers and it wasn't the next big thing. If Walmart was ever redemptive it was now.

Not only did they have Gordon they had two options. They had the standard Trackmaster Gordon (at a price that was lower than Target or Toys R Us would have sold it for), and a Talking Trackmaster Gordon that was a little over four dollars more.

Linden and I discussed the different prices, and she was interested in taking the opportunity to not just get a working Gordon, but to upgrade her previous gift with putting extra money into getting a Talking Gordon.

She gave her money to the person at the checkout register without complaint. Her worry was not giving up the money, but worry that she might not have enough. She did have enough.

It is clear from the experience she has a concept of giving, but her money concept is weak. She was very excited to get 8 cents change back. She replied back "Does that mean I get to spend this money, again."

She also observed that her coin purse was much lighter.

There were times over her birthday week that you could tell the attention and gifts had made her spoiled and in need of a temporary "birthday detox." But in this moment, she was absolutely precious. There are few times when we are more beautiful than when we truly give from our hearts.

I was proud of Linden. Shepherd's just barely two and didn't fully realize the thoughtfulness and generosity of his sister. But it was a true joy to drive them back home while the pushed the "Talking Gordon button" and repeated lines like "Oh, the indignity."


Grete said...

I loved reading this!

Unknown said...

What's better than giving people stuff? Giving people more stuff. Yes, the dragon living outside your village seems happy with your sacrifice of a buxom wench, but why not throw in a baby or two to sweeten the deal?

Or, for a more practical example, if you're not sure the person you're buying for will like your big gift, why not throw in something small along with it? It can only help -- if giving makes you look kind, then giving more only makes you look kinder. It's logic.

But Actually ...

Humans do not function according to logic. This isn't a criticism of the species, it's just a fact -- logic is a horrible way to predict how the human brain will react to something. Logically, it shouldn't be a big deal to find a dead tarantula in your breakfast cereal -- it can't hurt you, and you can eat around it -- but your brain will tell you, "Flee the room and burn the house down."

Sarah Khan

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