Better to give than to receive
She's a spirited girl whose passions inspire action.
That's how the American Girl Doll company describes Saige, the 2013 doll of the year. It could also describe Emma Watson, an energetic 7-year-old who had been saving since her birthday last January to buy Saige but decided about a week ago to spend the money on a complete stranger instead.
Emma, who's in second grade at Tramway Elementary School, and her parents, Heather and Sam Watson, were sponsoring a 5-year-old girl this Christmas through the Salvation Army. Her parents said they had bought all the clothes the mystery girl asked for but weren't sure they'd be able to afford every toy she wanted as well. So Emma — who can name every item on the other little girl's Salvation Army wish list from memory — stepped in to help.
"My mommy said she had a Christmas but without any presents," Emma said. "So I said I would buy her a bike."
Emma stayed true to her word, spending $50 of her own money — several month's worth of allowance — on the bike, a white one with streamers and highlights in pink and purple. That meant she no longer had enough to buy Saige, who costs well upwards of $100. But Emma refused to be selfish.
"I told her while we were checking out, 'There's still time to turn around and return this if you change your mind,'" Heather said. "But she said no."
Emma herself needs a new bike, too, having outgrown her current one. But with the money that she had left over — which she had been saving for nearly a year, since her birthday last January — she bought a present for her parents, again deciding to spend on someone other than herself.
She grins and nods enthusiastically when asked if she thinks she might be on Santa's "nice" list.
"This is just Emma's spirit," Heather said. "Her teacher wrote home once that she was always thinking of others, and all these nice things, and it just made me cry."
Emma's generosity made several folks at the Salvation Army cry, too, Heather said. But it's not her first time making a holiday sacrifice, even in her short life. She also previously gave some toys to a waitress who the family knew was struggling with providing for her own family at Christmas.
Emma said she's still a little upset that her parents encouraged her to give multiple toys away then, including some of her favorites. But with presents under their Christmas tree, and dolls and other toys strewn throughout the living room, she doesn't complain for too long.
"We've definitely always believed and taught the kids that if you can help someone, you should," Sam said. "There's enough cold hearts in this world."
Sam, a 29-year-old who works at the Steele Pig restaurant, and Heather, a 31-year-old who stays at home with Emma and 1-year-old Lila, aren't the stereotypical image of philanthropists. But they said they've given to the Salvation Army or other charities for years because it's the way they were raised and the way they're trying to raise their own kids.
Between the help of her grandma Lyn Hankins, executive director of the Lee County Partnership for Children, plus her Girl Scouts troop and the Black Belt Leadership Academy — where Emma recently earned her green belt — Sam and Heather say Emma gets a lot of good guidance outside of their home, a cozy two-story house just off Pendergrass Road in the Tramway area.
But that's not to say their values aren't reinforced at home. Emma's favorite book, for example, isn't something from the Boxcar Children or Nancy Drew. It's a book of cartoons from human rights organization Amnesty International called "We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures."
Christmas presents might not be a universal human right, but Emma still values the holiday and its message of giving; she said she has no regrets about buying the bike instead of getting herself Saige. In fact, in all the excitement, she even forgot to include the doll on her own wish list for Santa. But there's always her birthday in January, her second-favorite holiday after Christmas.