As a young man, I played with Legos. A lot. I was rarely content with building Lego sets according to the instructions included in the box. I often combined elements from numerous packages to make creations all my own. For a time, I was even part of the weird mail-order Lego club, and even received free Legos on my birthday!
Sometime around 1987 or 1988, Lego released its first in what was to become a long line of monorail sets. This would be the jewel in my Lego crown! It was so much more fantastic than your average set of Legos, because it involved an actual track and a motorized, battery-powered “monorail” (really more of a rack railway, but you get the point).
I had to have it.
But given the large and complex nature of this Lego set, it cost something to the tune of $120 (About $230 in 2012), and for an eight-year-old, that seemed unattainable.
However, my wonderful mother taught me some valuable lessons. She wouldn’t cave and just buy me the ruddy thing. She wanted me to earn it. Since I didn’t grow up in Malaysia, sweat shops were out of the question. My only means of income were the pittance known as my weekly allowance ($2! Yeah, baby!) and the opportunity to do odd jobs for my parents and neighbors.
I was so driven to get my monorail that I spent the better part of a year scrimping and saving in order to be able to buy it. Countless times had I been to the store and seen the monorail on the shelves, always out of reach, but finally, it was my turn to take it off that shelf and bring it home.
But upon visiting the store, there were no monorails available. The store had sold out! What was I to do? Didn’t they understand that I had spent a year saving for this thing? And what, they wanted me to wait a few more weeks until it was in stock again? This was a travesty beyond measure!
In an effort to console me, my mom told me that she and my dad had been so impressed by how hard I had worked over the past year that they wanted to buy the monorail for me outright. Now, this is the part in the tale when you think of famous stories, such as the daughter who saved all that she had – 18 cents – for a bike, only to have her father pick up the rest; and classic Mormon metaphors of my parents providing a form of grace after I had exerted works. Lots of salvation parallels here, folks.
The story, however, changes course here. Rather than be moved by the generosity of my well-intentioned parents, I was so inconsolable that I mouthed off to my mom about the entire ordeal. I was so petty and irked about the monorail not being in stock that my mom eventually withdrew her offer to buy it for me; and not just then and there, but at any point.
This, of course, also upset me, even though I had never at any point thought that my parents would buy the Legos for me. But after returning home and spending the next few days moping about and reassesing my situation, I came to terms with my prize being temporarily unavailable, and realized I would eventually get it and that I needed to exercise some patience.
I loved my monorail once I finally bought it. My mom, however, held true to her word. I paid for the whole thing out of my own pocket. Save the gas involved in shuttling me to the store, my parents didn’t pay a nickel.
What do we learn from this story? I’ve reflected on this experience throughout my life because it is not a simple anecdote of parents teaching their kids responsibility and then later rewarding them beyond their wildest dreams. We don’t exactly expect children under ten to exhibit strong emotional maturity in these cases, but I was so absorbed in myself and my own needs that instead, I suffered more than I needed to.
I’m not yet a parent, but I am scared to death of failing to teach my future progeny gratitude, patience, perspective, and persistence. My parents taught me to earn something that I wanted. It is a simple lesson and has been mirrored in countless ways throughout the lives of others. I don’t claim to have a monopoly on good parenting stories, but as a young man, I definitely learned the value of something
But the bigger lesson for me is how much more grateful I am that my mom didn’t cave to my brattiness in the face of a letdown. She taught me that sometimes we can’t control our circumstances, but we can control how we react to them, especially when a huge glimmer of hope (in this case, my parents’ checkbook) was dumped at my feet. I would have much rather spent my $120 on arcade games, bottles of Dr. Pepper, and comic books, but I was deprived that luxury and I really had no one to blame but myself.
I’m sure many of you can think of the spiritual parallels related to my story, notably that found in 2 Nephi 25:23 – that we are saved by grace after all we can do. I see that, as well, but I want to stick to the temporal lessons of my experience – that parents shouldn’t be afraid to make their kids earn things; that learning to work is vital to our mortal and spiritual lives; that gratitude is sometimes taught by standing one’s ground; and that we shouldn’t spit in the face of generosity, no matter how seemingly difficult our circumstances.
Even now, over twenty years later, I continue to learn these lessons. I often reflect upon my upbringing and realize how lucky I am that my parents didn’t give me a free pass even though I’m certain they fought the very natural parental urge to spoil me rotten. Hopefully, when I’m presented with a chance to teach my kids the value of earning what they want, they will be smarter than eight-year-old Geoff.