Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day 7: Free Pancakes Around the USA!

I started out this morning by taking my 4-year-old son, Elijah, to the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) for the IHOP National Pancake Day, when IHOP gives away "short stacks" (servings of three pancakes) for free. In exchange, they have a collection on the way out the door for some local charity. IHOP has been doing this for five years, and it generates a lot of money for both IHOP and for the related charity. This is all IHOP restaurants across the country, so if there's one near you, go check it out ... and think about giving some to the local charity they're supporting.

At my IHOP, the local charity was First Choice for Women, which offers various types of support to women who find themselves in the midst of an unplanned pregnancy. Given the nature of the experiment, I felt like I should attend this event, but frankly my bank account is running a bit low, and I haven't gotten the first of the paychecks that I'm giving away yet (that comes Friday), so I didn't really have money to give away. Still, I figured I'd talk to the manager and get some information.

Elijah and I had the free pancakes, and some hash browns and sausage(which we were charged for), and as I was getting ready to pay the bill I realized I had a $100 bill in my wallet. Remember the pickup truck that I'd sold to a relative? Well, we'd gotten the first payment a couple of days before the project began and I hadn't really looked in my wallet since then.

To Give or Not to Give, That is the Question?
So here I was, in the middle of a giving experiment, having just been given free pancakes, with my son across from me, knowing that I'd have to go home and blog about this ... with a $100 bill sitting in my hand.


I paid the bill ($4.30) and then left a generous tip ($10.70), and was left staring at $85 in cash. A $50, a $20, two $5 and five $1 bills. And I did not want to give that money up. Some little voice inside me was declaring, "Listen, you're being more than generous, and you've laid out guidelines for how to do project. You do not have to give this money to prove anything to anybody. You got this money well before the project began. Just keep it."

But I didn't particularly trust these thoughts. The $100 bill had literally shown up right as a giving opportunity presented itself. Was I being greedy by not giving the money in this situation? What was the right thing to give in this situation?

Not trusting my own instincts, I had only one option. I asked Elijah.

I laid the money out on the table, and told him that the restaurant was collecting money to help women who were pregnant - just like Mommy had been just a few months ago - but who needed help paying for their doctor visits (he remembered Mommy going to the doctor a lot) and getting food and things like that. How much should we give?

Elijah reached straight for the $50, and then sat the $20 on top of it, then the $5 bills and then three of the $1 bills. Out of $85, I was left with $2.


I'm still, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on, feeling uncomfortable about this. There's the obvious, of course ... for me, $83 is a not-insignificant sum of money. That's about a month's worth of gas in my car, for example. But, of course, this money came to me as extra money from the sale of my pick-up truck. I wasn't planning for it and, frankly, I had enough money in savings to cover my expenses for the 40 days even without this $83. It really just made sense to donate it, yet I was mentally resisting.

Then Elijah began taking more ones, saying "I need change for my magic trick." And, sure enough, we had just learned a magic trick that involved turning a $5 bill into five $1 bills. So I took the $5 bill (which he also needed) and the five $1's and said, "How about we keep these to go in your magic kit?" (He got the magic kit from his Nana for Christmas. It's very cool, although he has some challenges really hiding the secret of the trick.)

So now I have $75 that I'm giving, and I'm still feeling a little hesitant about it. I stand at the donation box, feeling awkward, and Elijah looks at the money in my hand. He reaches out and fiddles a bit with the remaining $5 bill in it. On an impulse, I take the $5 out. Oddly, I now feel completely fine about putting the $70 into the donation box.

On the drive home, I think realized why I felt so awkward. Over the past two years, I have become nearly obsessive about tracking receipts for business expenses. I was giving a cash donation which I was giving as part of the 40 Days of Giving project ... which meant I would deduct it as a business expense, but had no receipt.

And, in fact, the cut-off expense where you need a receipt is $75.

In other words, if I had deposited $75 in cash, claimed it on my taxes as a business expense, and not had a receipt ... it's possible that, were I to be audited, the IRS could nail me for tax fraud! At $70, my understanding is that they have to take my word on it, but at $75 or higher I actually need the receipt. My subconscious may have been trying to let me know that I was about to get myself into a bit of trouble.

So it wasn't greed (Unless you count not wanting to be on the losing side of an audit as "greedy." This falls under my classification of "common sense."), and just to prove it (to myself, not to all of you people ... I'm not even sure if anyone is reading this far into the post, after all), when I got home, I gave the remaining $5 to Amber, so that she could get cookies for the other students in her afternoon Human Services class at Ivy Tech Community College. (She can't have any cookies, because she's going gluten-free in an effort to alleviate the baby's digestive problems. Talk about sacrifice!)

An illuminating exchange: 
I spent part of the day watching the kids and working from home, rather than taking a day off work (because our daycare fell through). At one point, frustrated that Elijah (let alone the baby, who can't help it) won't leave me alone to get work done, I said, a bit more loudly than was warranted, "Elijah, why can't you just leave me alone to work!"

He frowned and said, "I wish people couldn't make you work. You shouldn't give so much money away, because then you wouldn't have to work so much. Next time, you should keep it."

I do work a lot, on a wide range of projects ... and I am the sort of person who can lose himself in these projects, and focus on them to the exclusion of all else. I have to sometimes consciously remind myself that the projects are not the most important thing in life. Not even this one.

Being a parent is a tough balancing act. In part, you want to teach your kids to have a good work ethic, and to perform their time doing worthwhile things. But, at the same time, you want to be sure that your kids enjoy life and remember how important it is to play. I certainly don't want him to grow up with an emotional aversion to work.

But the truth is that I, too, wish that people couldn't make you work ... but even if I didn't have to work, I'd probably still choose to occupy myself with writing projects such as this one.

I hope that someday he finds a way to do work that feels like play.