Sunday, August 15, 2010
A story about a boy, a bike, some vegetables and a brother
If you're reading this because you love a person on the spectrum, then you might also know that among the heroes in any story about a family affected by autism are the siblings. Our family is no exception; Oliver's brother, Sami is quite definitely exceptional.
So, last spring Nik and I noted aloud to Sami that by the time his next birthday rolled around, in March 2011, he would be ready for a bigger bike. If you are a long time reader of this blog, you also know that we do quite a lot of biking as a family. Almost everyday you will find us out and about on our bikes. This summer some of our rides have been as long as 6-8 miles. That might not sound like a lot until you consider that little Sami rides a bike that probably comes up to your knees. For every revolution of my pedals, Sami was cranking out two or three rotations. It was exhausting to watch him but he never complained. Sami is quite a good sport that way.
Somehow, as Spring progressed, Sami and I agreed that if he wanted a bigger bike before his birthday then he would have to earn the money and buy it himself. It was then that the idea of a vegetable stand was conceived. Together, we planted almost 20 tomato plants in our yard with the idea that when they started to bear fruit, Sami could sell them on the sidewalk by the corner. The vegetable stand was a great impetus for all sorts of homeschool lessons and the more Sami learned about money the more excited he became. We went to a local bike shop and Sami chose a nice, used Trek, similar to the one Oliver rides. It cost $120. Calculating in my head how many tomatoes the boy would have to sell to earn that much I estimated that it would be a long, long while until he was wheeling away on the new bike.
The first day of the vegetable stand was dismal. Sami made fifty cents and we sat on that hot, hot street corner for ninety minutes. I was loathe to go out the next day and thought briefly about working out another way for him to earn the money. But Sami, for his part, was so enthusiastic and optimistic. After all, he had earned fifty cents!!
We never had another day in which Sami only made fifty cents. In fact, it was often the case that Sami made $10 in ten minutes. Something about home grown tomatoes? Or a red-headed boy with a banjo? Who knows! But he learned to pick the best sales times: Saturday mornings and afternoons between 4:30 - 5:30 when people were heading home from work. And when he saw how well the tomatoes were selling he asked about selling green beans. He could buy them from the farm stand and sell them for twenty-five cents more a pound than what he paid. Cucumbers, too. Sami, it seemed, was turning into quite an little entrepreneur.
To make a long story short, and to leave out a lot of long, hot hours on the curb, I can tell you that Sami earned the money for his new bike in just about two weeks. You have never seen a prouder five year old than when he sat on the counter of the bike shop and counted out all those ones and fives. And you would have to wait a week later to see a mother even prouder of that boy.
You see, a week after Sami purchased his new bike he began to pester me to revive the vegetable stand. Every time I walked in from the garden with a load of tomatoes he begged me to give them to him for his vegetable stand. Every time we picked up a load of green beans destined for the freezer he tried to talk me out of a couple two-pound bags. It was ridiculous. And finally, exasperated, I asked him: "Sami, you already have your bike, what else do you want to buy?" And he responded with the best, most amazing thing I ever heard a boy of five say. He said: "I want to buy Oliver one of those computers that will help him learn."
It took a moment for the enormity of what he said to sink in. I asked him, "What do you mean?" And he said, "You know, the one where you just have to touch the screen that will be easier for Oliver and will help him learn to talk."
We talk pretty openly in our house about just about everything, including autism and including our finances. We talk to the kids honestly about what things cost and what we can afford and about the spending choices that we make. When Nik and I talk about money we don't wait until the kids are out of earshot. And Sami, evidently, had heard me talking about wanting to afford an iPad for Oliver. Lately I have seen and read so many exciting things about it -- from watching Oliver use one with his speech therapist to this article -- but with a price tag in the hundreds of dollars it is just not something that we can afford without planning and budgeting. You know how it goes.
But clearly I did not factor in the value of brotherly love or the power of home grown tomatoes.
"So," Sami asked, "can I have a couple of bags of green beans for my vegetable stand?"
I couldn't trust myself to speak at that moment so I simply slid two bags across the table to him.
Then, he leaned in on his elbows and said, "And you know what, mom? You know all those tomatoes that you used to make the sauce today? I'll sell them to you cheap."
So if you see a red-headed boy with a banjo on the street corner selling tomatoes? That's my boy. And I couldn't be prouder.