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A Warm Drink on a Cold Morning: Giving to the Homeless

In the frigid dark before school, my 13-year-old jumped out of the car to give a homeless man hot chocolate.

Even though we’ve driven past him about a dozen times recently, it’s always a shock. In our small midwestern town equipped with two shelters, you just don’t expect to see a man sleeping on a bus-stop bench during the coldest days of the year. I don’t know his story, but my heart always aches to think that he’s someone’s child, someone’s brother, someone’s uncle.

A few days ago, we noticed a car pulled up next to his typical spot. Two men were offering him coffee.

“Mom! Someone’s helping him,” my middle-schooler shouted. Without a moment’s hesitation, he demanded, “Why don’t we do that?!”

I told him I’d been thinking about giving to the homeless man. And I really had. But I’m a bit shy and nervous. And when I was in college, a homeless woman hissed at me, claiming the couple bucks I gave her “wasn’t enough.”

Since then, I’ve rarely given directly to people on the streets for fear of a similar reaction. Plus, haven’t we all been cautioned not to, told they’d just use our generosity to fuel addictions? So instead, my family donates to charitable organizations, especially those helping people in our community.

But I didn’t tell my child that.

I couldn’t.

Because he was right. We should help him. We should be giving to the homeless.

It was a wake-up call, courtesy of my teenager. Yes, treating a fellow human to a warm drink on a winter morning is the right thing to do. Thank you, son, for reminding me.

So I packed an extra lunch before school, putting two sandwiches, some fruit, and a treat into a brown paper bag. I poured another cup of coffee.

But when we drove by that corner, the man wasn’t there, so my son jumped out and left the packed breakfast by his things.

However, the next day he was in his spot, and my son lovingly handed him a hot coffee. The man was stunned and had trouble speaking, but he graciously accepted our small gift. As we drove off to school in our warm coats and heated car, I like to think we each reflected on just how fortunate we are and how easy it is to spread a tiny bit of kindness.

The next day, which was also the last time we saw the man, my son brought him a hot chocolate.

The man cried.

And we were stunned and humbled by his profound gratitude.

But for me as a mother, it was just as profound watching the child I raised and nurtured, someone still so very young, turn around and inspire me to be a better person. All those years of sleepless nights, taking care of him when he was sick, worrying about him, doling out warnings and timeouts and lost privileges, the stern talks and tearful arguments—it suddenly all felt worth it.

Like maybe I did something right in this parenting gig.

On that frosty morning, before the sun rose, it all came full circle. My son is teaching me, too.

When not worrying about her teenagers, Jacqueline Miller is writing about them. Her recent work appears in Parenting Insider and on her website. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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