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A Lesson in Giving

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Lesson in Giving

Every year at Christmas, I think about all the things I *should* be doing for other people.

I think about the volunteer hours I should put in somewhere, the barely-used toys I should drop off at the Children's Home, and the charities I should be writing checks to.

And then...Christmas comes and goes, and during the course of a whirlwind month we've spent all our money on the kids and replacing the plastic Christmas tree the cat peed on last year, and all our time has been sucked into the vacuum that is Daily Existence, and I somehow have gone through another holiday season without acting on even one of the things I had wholly intended on doing - call me The Queen of Good Intentions, I guess.

Am I the only one who feels guilty at Christmas?  I love Christmas.  I LOVE IT.  But...I always have this nagging feeling in my heart as I sit around the fire all cozy and warm, bundled up in my new pj's and polishing off another round of holiday leftovers while the kids claw through all of their new toys at my feet.  I always feel like I didn't do enough for others, like I have too much, like I've overlooked something.  It's kind of depressing, to be honest...and the only way I can make myself feel better is to tell myself to enjoy what I have and to make "helping others" a priority in the New Year.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

It wasn't always this way, though.
When I was younger, I was involved in 4H (Secretary of the Vista 4H, what what!).  We always did a lot for the community around Christmas time.  I remember caroling at a retirement home and donating to a local women's shelter each year, for starters.  And even at school, we adopted a family - I clearly remember my Dad carrying a giant black trash bag into my classroom, full of donations that I'd scrounged up around the house the night before we were all supposed to bring in our gifts...to say I'd gone overboard would an understatement!

As I got older and more self-involved, these sort of activities just sort of slipped away.  I remember sitting in my room when I was maybe 18 years old, probably the first year I hadn't been involved in some type of organized activity to help others at Christmas, scribbling away furiously in my journal as I tried to figure out why I felt so darn sad the day after Christmas.  My bright pink antique velour chair (DAMN YOU CAT-WHO-REPEATEDLY-PEED-IN-THAT-CHAIR) was in the middle of my room (why, I don't know) and I sat in it with my journal pressed to my knees as I tried to figure out where this random holiday depression was coming from.  And after pouring my heart out for a bit (old-school style, with a pen), it hit me - I hadn't done a darn thing to help others that year, and look at all the wonderful things I had received!

I pinpointed the problem, but did little to rectify it.  I guess I could blame life for getting in my way, use my two small children as an excuse for keeping me too busy to reach out of my little world and help others.  But all this time, I haven't felt like that's me...I feel like I have a giving heart, and I feel very, very strongly that I want my children to have giving hearts...and to put them to use.

It's one thing to think about all the nice things you're going to do for people.  It's another thing entirely to actually do them.

I am done making excuses and I am tired of being "too busy" to help others.

A few days ago, I was reading a post by Diana over at Hormonal Imbalances about an organization called Operation Christmas Child, and I thought, "YES!  That is what we are going to to do this year!"

Basically, you pick an age/gender of a child and fill a shoebox full of Christmas goodies.  I thought to myself, "This is the PERFECT thing to do with Jack," as he's got a lot of room for improvement in the "giving skills" department.

So, today (and here's where this post is going to take a turn for the lighthearted, which is how I intended it to be in the first place until I got all dark and serious) I sat down next to Jack on the couch as he lounged on his back watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and said the words every three-year-old wants to hear.  "Christmas will be here soon!"

He popped up and his eyes brightened and he gasped in excitement (and for the record, he totally knows that Christmas is coming...he's just like me and gets really excited about it).  "And you know what that means," I continued.  "It means...{big suspenseful pause}...presents!"

"YAAAY!"  was the response.

"But you know what's sad?" I asked.  "Some kids Mommy's and Daddy's don't have any money to buy presents for their kids, so they don't get anything at all for Christmas."

Jack, ever the realist, said, "Yes they do, Santa can bring them presents!"

So, not wanting to go down that road, I just said, "Well, I'm talking about presents from their Mommy's and Daddy's.  Every year, Daddy and Mommy buy you a lot of presents for Christmas.  Some kids don't have any presents.  Or clean shirts to wear.  Or shoes.  So, this year, I'm going to take some of our money and we are going to buy some presents for kids who don't have any toys."

The response was immediate and fierce.  "NOOOOOOO!!!!  I'm not buying toys for kids with my money!  NOT! EVERRRR!"

:::SIGH:::

After convincing Jack that his presents would not be affected by this (and also a short lesson in gratitude, but there's only so much you can teach a three-year-old about being grateful, which I learned later that afternoon when I told Jack to stop acting ungrateful about something and his response was, "I am grateful!  Just kind of grateful."), I got him on board.  In fact, after the initial resistance, he was so excited about it that he was picking out some of his own toys (old, little-used ones, to be honest) and insisting that we give them to babies without mommies and daddies of their own (the whole talk about kids not having toys went down a long, question-laden road that included discussions on orphans, foster care, bad guys with guns and even clean drinking water...sometimes OMG.HE.WEARS.ME.OUT with all the questions, but sometimes I'm amazed at his perceptiveness and thought processes).

We decided to prepare an Operation Christmas Child box for three kids - a boy between the ages of 2-4, a girl between the ages of 2-4 (I was hoping Jack could help me pick out appropriate gifts for these kids) and a girl between the ages of 10-14.  We headed to Target with a list in my head and a song in my heart, because finally...FINALLY...I was going to do something nice for someone else at Christmas, and my children were participating, too (although, mostly Claire just screamed and pointed at every.single.Minnie.Mouse.toy.in.Target as she tried to wiggle out of the baby carrier).

With Jack's help, we loaded up the three boxes with all kinds of goodies.  I was afraid he'd be upset and tantrum-y over picking out toys for someone else, but you know what?  He wasn't.  In fact, aside from a mini meltdown over the Transformer toothbrush he was begging me to buy, his argument being that he "only has two," he wanted to help and kept trying to convince me to buy more stuff, with the intention of it going to another child.  Not gonna lie - he made me proud.


What I love about Operation Christmas Child is that I was able to get Jack involved. And, we can track our boxes.  We'll know where they end up.  It's one thing to tell a three-year-old we did something nice and sent off some presents.  It's another thing entirely to say, "We sent presents to __________" - a place I can show him on a map and even teach him about.

A few boxes of goodies is a small thing to do, and maybe not enough coming from me - I feel like I have so much in my life, isn't there more I should be doing?  Every day, shouldn't I be giving more?

But it's a start.  It's something I can do for another child, and something I can do for my own.

And that's what I want Christmas to be about in our house.

Giving.

What do you do for others during the holidays? I'd love to hear about your ideas and/or favorite charities!  Please share! 



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2 Comments:

At November 15, 2012 at 9:29 PM , Blogger Gay Gallagher said...

When our classrooms would "adopt" families, I always made sure to add something for the mom. Something she would never go out and buy for herself. You have proven that my theory about the spirit of giving being contagious is true - Jack now has the bug.

 
At November 18, 2012 at 9:22 PM , Blogger Carrie said...

I remember that! Jack could certainly use some practice in "goodwill for others" so we'll see if this helps any...

 

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