Acts of Service Day – A New Family Tradition

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:

  1. Made sweet treats for our neighbors and went door to door passing them out. dsc_3292dsc_3298dsc_3295
  2. 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.dsc_3314dsc_3304
  3. Went to a local restaurant for lunch, left a big tip for our waiter and Brogan sang Christmas carols for the wait staff.dsc_3318dsc_3320
  4. 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). dsc_3323dsc_3327
  5. 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.
  6. 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). dsc_3332
  7. Went to the local assisted living home to drop off homemade cards to the residents.dsc_3334
  8. Visited the library to give cards and sweet treats to the librarians. dsc_3343dsc_3342
  9. Stopped by Home Depot, brought in some extra carts from the parking lot and grabbed a last minute Christmas gift for daddy.dsc_3349dsc_3350
  10. Went to Aldi to leave quarters in all the carts and purchase food for a local food pantry. dsc_3355dsc_3356
  11. 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. dsc_3361dsc_3362
  12. 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]
  13. 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.
  14. Swung by the food pantry to donate our food and pet items.
  15. 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


The Yes Mom

I decided to conduct an experiment with my oldest today.  I had this thought while the boys were napping… what if I didn’t say “no” when they wake up… what if I agreed to all the requests made of me for the entire evening?  What if, rather than “not now, buddy” or “in a second” or “maybe later” or “I don’t feel like it,” I just said “yes.”

If I haven’t said it lately, parenting can be draining. It requires a lot of energy and patience and selflessness.  And so when you’re already at your wits end just trying to keep the peace, keep them fed and keep the house picked up, anything extra can be too much.  Especially when you have one that’s relentless.  Mommy, can we do this? Mommy, can we do that?  Over and over and over again.  The easy answer is no.  Sometimes there’s a good reason and sometimes I’m just lazy (or selfish) and just don’t feel like it.  But each answer of no comes with a tinge of guilt.  Because, even when I can’t muster the energy to deal with it, I recognize that his requests are a cry for my attention.  He just wants me… to spend time with him… to pay attention to him… to put him above all the other things I call important.  When I really thought about it today, it made me want to cry.

So I figured, what the heck. When he wakes up, I’m just gonna say “yes”.  I’m going to get over my nightly routine and just live in the moment. Tonight, there will be nothing more important than him.

When he awoke, he called down to me. I went up stairs, walked into his room and he was all smiles. I told him I was soooo happy to see him and we hugged.  Then he asked, “you want to play up in my room with me?” …. “Yes.” And so we sat at his art table and colored. “Can you get my (washable) markers and play them with me?” “Yes.” And so I went down stairs, got the markers (and grabbed my camera, cause that’s what I do) and we colored some more.  “Can I take pictures with your camera?” Gulp. “Yes.” And I handed him my camera (with specific instruction on how to handle it and how careful he must be). He took photo after photo and was so proud of what he captured.  “Will you play tractors with me?” “Yes.” “Will you play outside with me?” “Yes.” “Can we watch a movie together?” “Yes.” “Will you read me a book?” “Yes.” “Will you read me another book?” “Yes.” My yeses went beyond the things he wanted me to do. I said yes to things that would cause a mess, get on my nerves and were just plain unnecessary (Me: “Do you want milk or water for bed?” Brogan: “Both” Me: “Sure”).


DSC_0530Brogan’s picture of me.

Funny thing about saying yes all night… I went into it thinking that doing all of this would take up the whole evening, but it didn’t. Turns out, I spend almost as much time saying no, and then dealing with the pleadings or hissy fits that follow my no, as I did when I said yes and engaged with him. Another interesting by-product… he was really well- behaved.  I was doing so much giving of positive attention, that he didn’t have to do anything that drew out the negative attention. I had filled his love cup so much all night that when I needed something of him, he was willing to give too. I saw it in the way he shared with Beckett, the way he cooled down after getting angry. And so when I had to stop playing with him because it was time to cook dinner, it was no big deal.  When it was time for him to take a shower… no big deal. And when it was time to go to bed, no big deal.

I’d be lying if I said I was committing myself to be a 100% “Yes Mom.” I’m not. I know myself well enough to know that I can’t sustain it.  Grandparents can because they do it in small doses; I can’t on a daily basis. (And by the way, it totally clicked to me tonight why kids act better for the grandparents – because they say yes!!) But what I will do is say yes more often.  I’ll try to remember that what he really wants (and needs) is me and my attention. I’ll keep in mind that it wouldn’t kill me to snap out of my routine and just have fun with my kids. I will commit myself to try harder.  After all, he is only young once… and one day, in the not too distant future, I’ll be wishing he wanted to spend time with me.