One of the neatest things about starting a family is getting to start our own family traditions. Last year we spent a day where we focused on others and doing small acts of kindness around our town. While it wasn’t without the challenges you’d imagine with a 3 and 5 year old, it was a wonderful, feel-good family day… and the beginning of a new tradition.
So this year I was determined, in the midst of the craziness of the holiday season and the birthday celebration of my youngest, to carve out a day where me and the boys could spread kindness and holiday cheer in our community. For me, the connection to Christmas and teaching them the true meaning of Christmas is important. Now 4 and 6, they understood the concept a little better, and they were generally easier to manage than last year. We repeated some of our ideas from before and added a few new ones too. I tried my best to capture photos of day. Here’s what we did:
Made sweet treats for our neighbors and went door to door passing them out.
Stopped by a fire station to give treats and cards to our local fire fighters. They returned the favor by letting the boys play in the trucks for a few minutes.
Went to a local restaurant for lunch, left a big tip for our waiter and Brogan sang Christmas carols for the wait staff.
While at the restaurant, we ran into some police officers. The boys thanked them for their service, gave them some of our sweet treats and the cards we made for them (we had intended to drop them by the police station).
Went to Publix, cashed in all of the household coins we could find (to help fund some of our acts of service) and purchased some animal food to donate. We gave to the feed the hungry initiative when we checked out.
Stopped at a gas station and gave the clerk $10 for the next customer who pulled up to pump 10 (Brogan liked the idea of $10 on 10 lol).
Went to the local assisted living home to drop off homemade cards to the residents.
Visited the library to give cards and sweet treats to the librarians.
Stopped by Home Depot, brought in some extra carts from the parking lot and grabbed a last minute Christmas gift for daddy.
Went to Aldi to leave quarters in all the carts and purchase food for a local food pantry.
Made a stop at the Dollar Tree to purchase toys to give to random kids at the park. While we were there the boys left $1 bills all throughout the toy aisle for other kids to find.
While driving through the parking lot, we came across a homeless woman asking for help. Brogan gave her a care packet he’d made at school (that we happened to have in the van), as well as $5 of his own money that he’d earned the day before. The woman was overwhelmed with gratitude by the sweet gesture, thanked us for our kindness and gave Brogan the biggest hug. This was Brogan’s favorite part of the day… and the most emotional one for me.
[at this point the wheels started to come off, and so my energy was spent wrangling the crazies and not photographing our last few stops]
Stopped at another fire station to give the last of our treats and cards. Again we were met by the nicest fire fighters who indulged the boys’ love of fire trucks, sirens and walkie talkies.
Swung by the food pantry to donate our food and pet items.
Went to the park to distribute our toys. Found four kids to give to – the parents and kids were surprised and very thankful.
I share this with the hope that our tradition inspires others.
Despite the good intentions for a selfless day, I still had to deal with whining from the back seats and little boys who were occasionally annoyed by the diverted focus away from them. I tried my best to keep them on mission and remind them that while most days we cater to their wants this day would be about others. Did the boys see the big picture in all the things we did that day? Probably not. But there were parts where they could see how their actions brought happiness to someone else, and that made them feel really good inside. While I don’t expect that our one day a year excursion turns them into unselfish little people, I do hope it plants a seed. The seed of a selfless spirit, the tendency to do for others, and the true meaning of Christmas.
In short, the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit, that makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service. – David O. McKay
This past Saturday I put my family on mission. We spent the entire day out in the community spreading kindness and doing for others – we had a Family Day of Kindness. For the last six months or so I’ve been tossing around the idea of giving the kids this sort of opportunity. After reading a blog post by a mom who did this with her children to celebrate her birthday, the notion was laid on my heart. And while December is crazy for everyone, it was important that this experience be part of my kids’ Christmas season because this is what Christmas is all about. And so we did it. We spent the day being intentional about giving; about putting others first.
Now before you go imagining this picturesque day of my family out spreading kindness and Christmas cheer – where everyone was smiling and happy and selflessly giving of themselves for the benefit others – please remember that I have a 3 and 5 year old. That is not how it went down. For starters, I got my children in and out of the van (and car seat) 11 times in about 4 ½ hours. 11 times people. And with one child who will not under any circumstance willingly go into the car seat on anyone’s timetable but his own, let me just say that I deserve some sort of award for my patience and the fact that none of the four letter words in my head came out of my mouth. It made me tired. But we persevered – safely and all buckled in – ha! I kept their interest by making it a game, urging them to complete one “mission” so we could hurry on to the next one. But herding 2 little boys is about like herding cats and so “come on!” and “keep it moving!” were the phrases of the day (as were “come back!” and “don’t touch that!” and “you better not run into that parking lot!” and “I’m going to call your father!” – but I digress). I started singing this hurry-up kind of song to pick up the tempo, which of course thoroughly annoyed one of my boys… so he made up his own song that I should sing instead. And of course my other son hated the new song. Did I mention I was tired?
Trying to get kids to buy in to the idea that the world doesn’t revolve around them is tough. Kids expect to always get something. And while telling my kids no is not a new thing, the blatant “you get nothing, but you will give to someone else” was pretty in their face – especially at our stop at the Dollar Tree. I handed each boy a few dollar bills and told them to place them in the toy section so that other kids could purchase toys. “So can I get a toy?” they asked. “Nope. Today is about giving to others.” Oh. My. Gosh. Talk about a meltdown. You’d have thought I told them they were never getting another toy in their life. In a matter of moments I turned into, and I quote, “the worst mommy ever!” and the day turned into, and I quote, “the worst day of my entire life!” It was affirmation that the kindness outing was needed.
But the day was not all bad. Absent all the ins and outs of car seat… and trying to get them to leave the fire station (after the firemen so graciously let them play in the trucks)… and the Dollar Tree episode, there were bright spots that warmed my heart and I pray leave at least a small impression on them as well.
So here’s what we did all day…
1) We made homemade cookies and delivered them to 12 of our neighbors
2) Left a card and homemade sweets for our mail lady
3) Randomly purchased $10 in gas for a stranger
4) Put quarters in the carts at Aldi and left a bag full of quarters for later
5) Delivered handmade cards and a treat basket to the fire station
6) Dropped of a bag of food at the local food pantry
7) Left dollar bills in the toy section of the Dollar Tree
8) Left our waitress an extra-large tip at lunch
9) Dropped off handmade cards and treat basket for the local librarians
10) Placed a card and flowers at the grave of my husband’s grandparents
11) Walked the halls of the nursing home delivering hugs, handmade cards and homemade cookies
12) Went to the park and gave away bubbles to other children
13) Stopped by another fire station and delivered more cards and a treat basket
While I gathered a lot of the ideas from the blog post that inspired me, I asked the boys for their input as well. Brogan came up with the idea to visit his great-grandparents’ grave and leave a card – and told daddy what to write on the card – I just love his little heart! Beckett wanted us to give treats to the firemen, and also suggested that we talk to everyone we saw. They really can be the sweetest kids.
Fortunately the idea of random acts of kindness is more prevalent now than ever, but people still have a hard time comprehending that someone will do something for them without the expectation of anything in return. When we were at the gas station, I asked the boys to pick a number (bad idea – 2 boys and I needed 1 number – I’ll rethink that next year, ha!) and I told the clerk that I wanted to put $10 in gas on that pump. She kept saying, “that pump is empty” and I responded, “I know, I want to put $10 on it.” To which she asked, “what kind of car are you driving?” And then I repeated that I had already purchased my gas, and wanted to buy gas for a stranger. It just didn’t register. And then at the park, as the boys were trying to give away bubbles, they would walk up to a kid and say, “would you like some bubbles?” and either the kid or the parent would kindly say thanks, but no thanks, you can keep your bubbles. And the boys would deflate and I’d interject, “we came to the park for the sole purpose of giving away bubbles, please feel free to take them if you’d like them.” And then they’d get it and graciously accept the bubbles. And the boys just lit up when they did.
I share this experience not in search of recognition or kudos, but in hopes that it will inspire someone – just as the blog post I read inspired me. Our experience was not perfect. My kids were not perfect. I was not perfect (but close because seriously, 11 times out of the car seat and I didn’t lose it!). There was more that I wanted to do, and I’m already thinking about how to make next year better. But the point is that we did something. We live in a world where most things aren’t free and if it seems too good to be true, it usually is. This makes me sad about our world. There are so many lessons that I want to teach my children – one is what it means to be the answer to someone else’s prayers. And while I don’t believe that all of our acts of kindness met this criteria, maybe one did. My hope is that their little hearts were softened by making others feel good. My hope is that they begin to realize that life shouldn’t be all about me, me, me – that greater joy comes in giving than in receiving. My hope is that this experience planted the seed of selflessness that will allow God to use them for His purpose. Seeing them boast with pride as they handed out their own handmade cards and got big smiles in return brought me so much joy. I could see that they were getting it – the true meaning of Christmas.
Tuesday started off as a pretty normal day. I knew snow was in the forecast, and was pretty excited about it for the boys. I went to work and was told our office would close early and folks could take off when needed to be able to get home safely. I got a lot of work done in the morning and decided I’d stick around to eat lunch, and then hit the road. No rush. The snow had just started at my work when I set off for home.
The first couple of miles were pretty easy… the roads were definitely getting snowy, but all the traffic was moving. A couple miles down the interstate… a couple miles down my first surface street… and then I stopped. I could see cars up ahead going really slow over a bridge that was iced over. I thought, okay, once we get over this bridge, it should be smooth sailing. After all, it was only about 1pm at this point… way too early for traffic to be bad. I creeped along, finally passing the bridge, and then traveled about a mile over the next 30 minutes. And then I really stopped. Like, my car didn’t move for about an hour. I kept checking my traffic apps, trying to get some info on what in the world was making us stop. My Waze app, confused about whether I was heading east or west (because I was still) kept re-routing me to a route that offered a 2 hour and 15 minute commute. What?? No way was I going to be in the car that long! As I’m waiting, I realize my phone isn’t working properly – I can only connect one out of every 20 calls I try to make. Then I see a man coming the other direction with his windows down. He tells us that the we won’t be going anywhere because there are cars up ahead who can’t get up a hill and they have slid back and are blocking traffic. Great. I start playing out the options in my mind.
The road I was on was divided with two lanes on each side. I came to the conclusion that I’d likely be sitting here a while anyways, so I might as well cross the medium, head in the other direction, and try out my alternate Waze route. Ok, so something you should know about me, I’m not a real risk taker when it comes to these sorts of things. I start getting real anxious when I have to do something against the grain. It stresses me out. But it still seemed like my best bet, so I took my Saturn VUE (with new tires, thank God), and went over that median. I got up it just fine, but got snagged by the underbelly of my car. I hit the gas, made it all the way over and tried to regain control of my ride when all four wheels hit the ice on the other side. But I did. Mission successful… so far.
I continued onto my new route as conditions worsened. I was riding along a residential road with a couple other cars and was actually making progress… until we stopped again. This time I was stopped for about another hour. Come to find out a car up ahead had run out of gas. A good samaritan stopped to top her off and I was on the road again.
At this point, I knew where I was, but had never traveled this road before. I became acutely aware that the decisions I was making to turn right, turn left or go straight were really important because any road that had a hill was virtually impassible. I made a series of turns that landed me on my first bad decision. There I was stopped again with dozens and dozens of other cars, all halted because cars ahead couldn’t make it up a hill. And by this I mean they’d try to go up and slide back down and wind up stuck on the ice. This resulted in four or five cars completely blocking the road. I made the call to turn around again, however this move got me stuck on the ice. I tried alternating between drive and reverse to gain some traction, but it was unsuccessful; panic started to set in. And then two ladies hopped out of their SUV and got the attention of some people walking (two women and a man), and they pushed my car to get me free. Such awesome people! At this point I began to enter freak-out mode. I started wondering if I’d ever make it home since each way I turned I was met with another impassible road. I had to pee. I decided that even though the main road I was originally on was gridlocked, I’d try to make it back there, with the thinking that if local authorities were going to clear a road, it would be that one first. Fast forward another hour, and I was back on the main road. Fast forward another hour and I made it to a QT. I used the facilities, got some snacks and regained my composure. At this point I realized that I may be in the car all night, but that I’d be okay. I had a full tank of gas, a phone charger, plenty of water and food. I realized that I was much more fortunate than many others out there. I was humbled as I saw a school bus full of kids (probably middle school or high school) in traffic right next to me. And I thought of the bus driver… what an enormous amount of responsibility and stress she must be feeling – what does she do with kids who have to go to the bathroom? Kids who are hungry? Who are cold? Mind you, at this time the temperature was 25 degrees. My heart just sank for that driver and all the other ones who I’d seen out on the road.
In the span of about two hours, I made it about a quarter of a mile and was at an intersection. Although I had established a strategy to stay on this road, I kept questioning whether it was the right decision. I weighed my options and decided to make a left turn off the road I had inhabited the last four hours. I followed some other cars down my first series of turns, and then was all alone. I was traveling down an ice covered desolate road, littered with abandoned cars, some in ditches, some that had been wrecked. Mailboxes were down; it was erie. I tried to maintain a reasonable amount of speed (20 mph?) to keep my momentum going. I had to drive right through stop signs, but it worked. I didn’t get stuck and I made it up all the hills. I finally made it to the last “big” road that takes me home, and I felt like I was driving an obstacle course – jack knifed tractor trailers, cars stopped in the middle of the street. I was weaving in and out, on sheets of ice, praying that I wouldn’t have to stop, that I didn’t lose control and that I didn’t hit anything. God was answering prayers, because the last two miles of my journey, I made it through three (green) stoplights and didn’t have to stop once.
Needless to say, I made it. I arrived home at 8:30pm after having left my work at 12:40pm, just 17 miles away. But I was fortunate; I was merely inconvenienced. I kept thinking about how much worse it could have been… what if I’d had the boys with me?? An infant? What if I’d had been pregnant and really had to pee? What if I was running low on fuel? What if I had taken my phone charger out of my car? What if I was still riding on bald tires? What if, what if… all these other scenarios were much more bleak than mine. I felt overwhelmed with gratefulness that my situation was not that bad.
The next morning I awoke to the news and realized just how awful the whole thing was. I learned that there had been kids, on buses, on the interstate all night and that the National Guard was being dispatched to rescue them. I learned that the road I was on, that I almost stayed on, was never cleared and all of those cars (hundreds and hundreds and hundreds) sat there all night. My heart just broke for all of those people… those children. I learned that people sought refuge at Home Depot’s and Lowes’ and Publix’s and mom and pop shops all over the city. These businesses opened up their doors to care for the people of their communities.
Of this who ordeal, the thing that will stick out the most were the acts of selflessness and community that I witnessed, and then later read about through a Facebook group called SnowedOutAtlanta. A woman from Atlanta, after being stuck in the gridlock herself, arrived home and mobilized a FB group where people all over Atlanta could make offers of assistance and those in need could look for help. The group now has over 55,000 members. I’ve been reading the cries for help, the answers to these cries and the beautiful success stories that have been shared. I have been consumed in this outpouring of humanity and it reaffirms to me that there are really good people out there. It shows me that God works in wonderful ways and uses a bad situation to bring out the best in people.
A few more lessons I’ve learned in this whole ordeal…
No matter how bad you’ve got it, someone always has it worse
It is not irrational to be prepared (or over prepared); I feel reaffirmed in my belief to never let my gas get low, always have a phone charger and keep water in my car… I’ll probably be adding a few more “must have” items to keep on hand
When you are in need, there are good people out there who are willing to help
There is always a silver lining to bad situations
If the forecast calls for snow, be really prepared and leave work before the snow starts!