A week or so ago I wrote a post called The A-ha Moment about a young man named Reed who was featured in an advertisement for Mutual of Omaha. In this post I engaged in two of the nastiest habits that I have when it comes to blogging. Actually, I didn't so much engage in them as I flopped down in them, rolled around in them, and picked up little bits of them and showered myself with them as I giggled seductively for astonished onlookers. My two bad habits are using bad language, which is still bad even when you replace parts of it with punctuation marks or if you hyphenate it so the middle letters are missing, and making sweeping generalizations and assumptions about places that I have never been, people whom I have never met, and situations that I know nothing about. This is not good. I generally do it, well, mostly because it gets ratings, as if anyone rates my or really cares. But that doesn't make it right. I should not do it under any circumstances.
In The A-ha Moment, I wrote about how Reed, at the tender age of 5, began asking guests to his birthday party to not bring gifts for him but to make donations to homeless animals instead. In the process of trying to figure out exactly what was going on with this amazing request I made some generalizations and assumptions about Reed, his mother, father, family situation and lifestyle that I should not have. And so, if I have caused offense or harm to Reed, his mother Wendy, or his father I sincerely and completely apologize. I was flat-out wrong about many of the things I said, and Wendy was nice enough to write to me last week to set the record straight as to how they experienced their very own A-ha Moment, and how very wrong I was about everything. Below is the e-mail that she sent me, unedited and in full, so you can see exactly how it all went down.
Hi Big Dave,
I just came across your blog from March 25th and was intrigues by your thoughts on the "Aha Moment" commercial for Mutual of Omaha. I can appreciate your cautiousness in believing that a kid this age is that selfless. Believe me when I say that it shocks the heck out of me quite often. But I figures I'd drop you a line to clear up some questions you had about how out son decided to turn his birthday into something bigger then himself, even at 5 years old. I'm Wendy (aka mommy dearest) and my son is Reed.
You were right about one thing, right off the bat: No one likes to watch a show on abused or stray animals. Especially us. And especially not when you have a child who is that impressionable at that age. (Even now, we are very strict about letting him see much of the news, etc because we don't want him to grow up too fast. You only have one go at childhood and the bad news out there can be a just a little too much reality for anyone, let alone a kid). It was actually quite a fluke that the show came on at all. We had been watching something much more age appropriate on Animal Planet (Like "World's Funniest Animals" or something along those lines) and the show about the abused dog had a commercial before the end of the show we were currently watching. It showed a dog that was left alone in a deserted house and was infected with ticks. Hundreds and hundreds of ticks. The commercial was brief but made a huge impression on Reed. Me too. We used to live in Florida so we were well aquainted with the little bloodsuckers and know the havoc they can spread on animals and people because we have had them attach themselves to us at one time or another. Anyway, Reed was very touched by the image of this dog and although I assured him that they were probably featuring him because he was eventually rescued, Reed begged me to let him watch the show so that he could see for himself that the dog ended up okay in the end. It was a judgement call I had to make and in doing so, I was well aware that I let him watch the show, he would quickly see that not everyone cares about the animals like he does. But he would also see firsthand, that there are other GOOD people out there trying to help those very animals that are abused and neglected. The alternative would have been to not let him see the story, letting him go to sleep with that split second image of that suffering dog and never knowing if it really ended up alright. Some parents may have done things differently but that was the decision I made. He and I watched the story and I don't regret it.
As far as us dragging him around from animal shelter to animal shelter, forcing him to look at the sad animals that will be euthanized if no one takes them home...I can see where someone might have fun conjuring up this image: The two over bearing parents determined to make their kid be a "good citizen" come Hell or high water. It made for a good blog topic, right? [Editor's Note: She hit the nail on the head with that one!] The truth isn't quite as juicy but here it is: Our family loves animals and especially dogs. I've volunteered at animal shelters and with rescue groups in the past. I can tell you firsthand that it's gutwrenching to see what people can do to an innocent animal. It breaks your heart and it is the reason that every pet we have ever had has been adopted or rescued. Giving an animal a good home, who had been severely abused in the past, and then watching them come out of their shell...it's an incredible experience and a life lesson you will always keep with you. Reed has always loved every pet we've had. Not just them but all animals. he's a very empathetic kid when it comes to homeless people, too. No choosing...he loves humans too. :) You're definitely right in your assumption that he was moved to ask me about using his party to help animals because that was fresh on his mind. But we do different things throughout the year that he is actively involved in that helps other causes that we all care about. Trick or treating for Unicef. Adopt-a-family throughout the year. Beach clean up. Helping at a local shelter for abused women and their kids. Can drives for the needy in our community. A few years ago, I started to volunteer with elderly Holocaust survivors. Not quite a walk in the park but it feels good to know you had a part in helping someone (or something). And I think you got that, if I read the end of your blog correctly. Truly, I know many, many friends and families that give of their time this way, day in and day out. Just trying to do their part in their corner of the world or sometimes even a bit further away than that.
Anyway, I guess I just wanted the chance to set the record straight here and explain to you why it's important to us. There is no underlying, darker reason here, I promise. No hopes for world domination by d-bags or any other choice titles that were mentioned early on. We really just pitch in as a family because it makes us closer and more humbled each time. I guess you could say that we are selfish in that sense because we always feel like WE are the ones on the receiving end afterwards. Does that make us feel good inside? Yes. Guilty as charged.
As Reed has grown older, he's learned more age appropriate details about the needs and situations of those less fortunate but we are very careful about what he sees and and make sure that knowledge is always seasoned with the possibility of being able to make a difference. He gets it. He really understands that just being sad about something doesn't change things and we're proud that he's embraced this message with a glad heart. No matter how much money you have, what level of education you may have or how old you are, you CAN help somebody or something. I'm not sure I see how the word "elitist" or "snob" would apply to that mentality but if that's how someone might initially view that behavior, then I say, Bring on the snootiest of out population! Of course the irony there is that what Reed has chosen to do proved that ANYONE can try to make the world a better place. Not just the rich. Not just someone with the last name of Getty or Gates. And most especially that, more often than not, if you just wait for "someone else" to fix it, it'll never get fixed. Yep, even with all the negativity and pessimism out there, a little kid got that message. And I was honored to share the story on the Aha Moment commercial because I think that being inspired by your kid is a good thing.
So, I'm glad that by the end of your blog you weren't quite as willing to paint us as the horrible and self absorbed family you had originally envisioned. And I appreciate the you came to the semi-conclusion that I don't ENTIRELY fit the mold of Mommy Dearest. (I'll be sure to remind Reed of that fact when he's a teenager). But seriously, when ya get right down to it, Reed is just a typical 10 year old. He loves playing with his friends, is a huge Star Wars fan, and can't believe that his parents actually like the same bands that HE now thinks rock! (Yes, we are also grateful for Reed's musical taste which leans towards that of Zepplin, AC/DC and the Beatles as opposed to the Jonas Brothers or some other nightmarish creation from the Disney Channel these days).
So if you are so inclined, I'd encourage you to watch the interview that a local TV station did after hearing from the SF SPCA about Reed's party this year. After most of their news crew finished filming the massive funeral procession for 4 murdered police officers across the Bay, they called and asked me if it would be okay for them to come out to Reed's party and also show a story that night that made people feel good. When our family went down to the SF SPCA the next day to deliver the $1,668 Reed had raised, they actually told us that a few of the animals featured had been adopted because of the news story. Now that's an Aha Moment!
Take care Big Dave and keep on blogging. I can't say that I agreed with some of the harsh things you originally said about me and my family but I appreciate that you put the topic out there and made your readers think about the whole thing.
So yeah, it is easy to see why I am so embarrassed by what I said. I couldn't have been more wrong about many, many of the things I said. I have come to know that what I was dealing with was just a group of people who wanted to make their lives better by making other lives better. And that's awesome. They certainly were not out to get famous, they were certainly not out to make themselves look good, and they certainly have only the best of intentions with everything they do. And luckily for me they have good hearts and a sense of humor too, isn't it? Wendy offered me the opportunity to watch the video of Reed's party "if I were so inclined," and I was. And now you are too, because here it is:
I tried to embed it but I was unable to. Sorry. In the end I was totally wrong about Reed, Wendy, and the whole nine yards. And I am glad that Wendy took the time to set me straight. As for the learning from my mistake, I guarantee that I have learned from this. And I guarantee that you won't see that kind of sweeping, made-up generalization any longer. Oh, and I am going to watch my language. And so these fabulous people have managed to change yet another person for the better. In a subsequent e-mail that Wendy wrote to me she noted that maybe this would be my A-Ha Moment. And I think she's right. Looks like Reed has done his magic again.