because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

"Out of The Closet" by Chrissy Teague

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This piece was written by a former student from Monroe Community College, Crissy Teague. She is one smart, beautiful, tough cookie.

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Everything I own in the world fits behind two locked closet doors. Last year I divorced, got fired and denied for unemployment. My nine-year old  and I moved back home with my mother. I felt lost. What could I control? I could take care of what little I owned. I locked away clothes, movies, CD’s, shoes, video games and hygiene products. No one would borrow or damage what was “mine.” It belonged to me. My thirteen year-old sister would no longer take my clothes without asking, not even the dirty ones — (I locked the hamper up too). Everything changed, but I would be  in control of my little world.

Then, my son threw two mega fits while we accompanied my mother to the mall. He first cried when I refused his request for a certain video game. Telling him to “put it on his Christmas list,” or “we can’t afford it because Mommy’s not working,” or “you hardly play the the your other Wii games” did not make the tears subside. Mega fit number two came when I gave him a caramel rice cake topped with peanut butter to snack on. His lack of gratitude, and double dose of tears in two hours resulted in up a “starving kids in Africa” speech.

Fuming, I sat arms crossed. How could my child be so ungrateful? Why is he so selfish/self-centered? After a few moments I realized, this behavior is learned: Narcissism as taught by me. I remembered my belongings under lock and key. I’ve been doing this all wrong. Not just training my child, but living. My new conviction: God did not breathe life into me so I could horde pleasures for myself then die, an empty existence.

guest blogger, Crissy Teague

The little I own in the closets now seems like too much. It’s time to come out of the closets. I will give to my local community. I will go through my movies/video games and donate to local orphanages. My son has extra toys, books to give to a daycare, or hospital children’s wing, or library. A dozen fancy dresses and shoes can go to the Fairy Godmother project. Instead of spending nights indoors watching movies, my son and I will volunteer. It is better to give than to receive. I’m going to give my son a rich legacy—a legacy of giving to others.

What are you holding onto that might benefit someone else? Needs have never been greater. What better time to give than now? You may feel like you don’t have much. I understand. I’m a jobless single mother coming out of two closets. I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to give. I challenge you to do what you can. Our relatives, our friends, our neighbors need us. The quality of community is in our hands. Who knows the outcome? The life you change may be your own.

Kids Throwing Money Away at the Mall

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photo by Narith5 at

Yesterday, I went to the mall. (What can I say? I got one of those free panty coupons from Victoria Secret, so I made the trek.) Of course, I wound up in one store and then another, and somehow I found myself inside Abercrombie and Fitch for kids. I confess, I had never been in that particular store before, but my son’s 11th birthday is coming up, and I was lured in with the promise of a BIG SALE inside.

Once I made it to the back of the store (where they apparently hide the BIG SALE items), I met a blond-haired, 13-year old boy who was also shopping the sale rack.

“These are a good deal,” he said enthusiastically pointing at a brownish pair of distressed shorts with a thick belt. “Only $19.99,” he continued. “It’s, like, unheard of in here.” I told the boy – let’s call him Spaulding – that I’d never been in the store before and he took me under his protective, scrappy, teenage-wing and showed me what he considered to be the best deals.

After Spaulding happily made his purchase, he received a lovely, thick bag with substantial navy fabric handles. He also received $0.79 cents in change.

“You can keep the change,” he announced, grabbing his bag.

“I can’t,” said the cashier. “I’m not allowed to put it in the drawer. It messes up accounting at the end of the day.”

“Well, just keep it then,” insisted Spaulding.

“I’m not allowed to do that,” the employee protested, placing Spaulding’s coins on the table in front of her.

Spaulding grabbed the coins and looked around. He quickly located a tiny garbage can near the check-out desk – where people who have sprayed samples of cologne toss their tiny unwanted paper squares of fragrance, and he threw his change in the garbage.

photo by wellohorid @

My jaw dropped.

I could not believe that I had witnessed a kid throwing out a few dimes short of a dollar.

Once, when I was about 10 years old, I made the mistake of tossing out a few pennies while emptying out a junk drawer, and my father gave me a lecture that I would never forget. It started generally – how people come to this country with big dreams and nothing in their pockets – and moved to the specific at which point he explained that he worked his ass off every day to make sure that our family had everything that we needed, and he’d be damned if I was going to be so ungrateful and selfish (*insert in a few million more shameful terms here*) as to throw away money, even a penny, when there were people starving all over the world, people who would love to have my pennies. Let’s just say, the speech made a major impression.

Meanwhile, back at the mall, I couldn’t help myself. I retrieved Spaulding’s coins and prepared to go on a hunt to find him.

He hadn’t gone far as he was, in fact, sitting on a bench right in front of Abercrombie & Fitch for kids.

“Excuse me,” I started. “I don’t mean to be all stalker-y. . . but I got your change for you.”

Spaulding looked bewildered.

“Oh,” he said, “I didn’t want it.”

I must have looked at him as if he had grown a second head because he added, “I don’t have a place to put them,” he shrugged. “I mean, no pockets or anything.”

He explained he’d brought his $25 to the mall stashed in his left sock.

I asked him if he received an allowance, and he said that he did.

“Ten dollars a week,” he said for making his bed, putting his dishes in the dishwasher, and doing his homework. He added that sometimes he didn’t get the full amount if he didn’t do everything he was supposed to do, but most of the time his parents just gave him the full amount because it was easiest to give him a $10 bill rather than have him argue with them, which he would inevitably do.

I couldn’t help myself.

I lectured him.

I explained to him that our economy is a train-wreck, that people have lost their jobs and their homes and cars; that folks can’t pay their bills or afford to send their kids to college. I told him that in extreme cases people are eating out of dumpsters, that they would have loved to have had his loose change.

“I get that you don’t have pockets, but how about you just put the change in there,” I pointed at his new A&F bag and noisily deposited the coins inside.

Spaulding shrugged. “I didn’t think about it,” he said in earnest. “Honestly, I just don’t like change.”

“Listen,” I said, trying not to get all preachy because I work with students and I know that preachy tone doesn’t work, but – again – I couldn’t help myself. “I’m guessing that your parents work really hard for that money and they would not be thrilled to know that you are throwing away your allowance. When you go home, get a mug or a bowl – some kind of container that you like – and just start throwing your spare change in there. You’ll be amazed at how fast it adds up. And if you really don’t want the change, make a wish and toss it in one of the fountains because that money goes to charity.” I paused dramatically. “Just don’t throw your money in the garbage, okay?”

I turned my back on Spaulding or Trevor or Hunter or whatever his real name was and returned to the store where I asked the cashier is she had ever seen anything like what had just happened.

“Like what?” she asked absently.

“Like kids choosing to leave their change behind rather than take it? Like kids literally throwing their money away?”

“Oh that,” said the cashier, looking more than a little bored. “It happens all the time. Probably every day.”

I was horrified, and I made it my mission to ask a few more cashiers to see if what I had witnessed in one store was just a weird anomaly to be discounted or if it was truly as commonplace as the bored Abercrombie girl made it sound. I wish I could say it was a one-time thing, but I was astounded to learn that every single checkout person reported that he or she had been in a situation where people had elected to leave their change behind rather than take it.

What is going on? Spaulding doesn’t like carrying coins? You’ve got to be kidding me? I’m telling you, this boy was a kind, decent boy. But he is obviously also a spoiled, entitled boy who has grown up with little sense of gratitude or appreciation. He receives $10 a week for doing things some folks would consider expected household chores. And he gets his money whether he does them all or not. Young Spaulding clearly knows how to work his parents.

I’m worried. These young people are making their way into our work force, ill prepared for its realities. They expect praise and rewards for performing routine tasks. I see them in my classroom at my community college already; they expect A’s, even if their product is mediocre. A colleague recently remarked that today’s young people expect “a trophy for simply showing up.” Clearly, many children of this “gift-card” generation do not understand the idea of saving one’s coins, or delaying gratification. How could they when their parents have given them everything they could possibly want? In fact, they have been given so much, they don’t even need to keep the change.

What have we done? Why did we do it?