Several weeks ago our furnace broke. And, of course, this happened at 8pm on a Friday night. The repair company could not get replacement parts until Monday morning, so we hunkered down for a long weekend of cuddling under thick blankets by the gas fireplace. For a while it was a fun, mini adventure — something different to shake up our usual routines. But when we put Asher and Annabelle to bed, I couldn’t take my eyes off the baby monitor. I watched the temperature indicator drop from 68 degrees to 67 to 66, all the way down to 61 degrees. Despite the space heater in the hallway, their rooms were chilly. I woke up throughout the night to check on them. Are my kids ok? Is it too cold in their rooms? Will they get sick?
By Monday the necessary parts had come in and we once again had a working furnace, but for a few nights I had a little window into what it might be like not to know that my kids are warm and safe. Of course, at any time we could have gone to my parents’ house or checked into a hotel. Thank goodness I don’t truly know what it means not to be able to provide shelter and warmth and clothing and food and so many material comforts for my children. But I think about it a lot, especially this time of year. I think about it when I read a Facebook post about Interfaith Sanctuaryneeding cribs for five new babies to sleep in. When I drive under the bridge and pass moms pushing strollers that are piled high with all of their possessions — and little children squeezed in. When I read another article about women and children fleeing Aleppo. I look around at my beautiful, warm home with presents piled under a lovely tree and wonder why my family got so lucky.
I will never understand the staggering inequities of our world. How can we let so many children go to sleep cold and hungry and unsafe? It is easy to feel overwhelmed and become immobilized. But we can’t; we have to do something. And now that I have children, I want to figure out how to help them develop empathy and positively contribute to our community. Fortunately, I belong to a village of moms who similarly want to empower their kids to make a difference. Here are a few ideas I’ve discussed with my friends. Please share yours in the comments!
Thankfulness, I believe, is central to helping our kids develop the desire to help others. Appreciation for what we have encourages us to be happier and more generous because we are focused on others–and not what we might think we lack. (There are so many additional benefits to practicing gratitude. The research is actually astounding.) But how can we cultivate an attitude of gratitude (among ourselves and our children)?
1) Daily Thanksgiving Ritual — Incorporate articulating what you are thankful for into one or two daily routines. At the breakfast table, family members could share one thing they are most looking forward to that day. At dinner, each person could describe a wonderful thing that happened. You could ask your child to say the name of each person he is thankful for before going to sleep. When I tucked Asher into bed last night I asked him what he was thankful for and he said, “Thank you for being my mommy.” All the feels!
2) Thank You Notes — Asher and Annabelle are too young to write thank you notes, but I often have them decorate ones that I write. When they get older, I would like to have them write their own. Some people suggest saving the postage and texting a video or picture of the child playing with the gift, but I think there is something special about taking a few minutes to write out an address and think about the person you are thanking. I’d also like to encourage them to regularly write notes simply to express their appreciation for friends and family. When I was teaching, I would always spend the day before Thanksgiving break having my students write thank you notes to special people in their lives. I received so many letters and visits from moms who were in tears (happy tears!) after receiving these letters from their teens. I would love to do this regularly with Asher and Annabelle. And I plan to write them thank you notes as well.
3) Focus on Relationships and Not Stuff — There are so many books and toys and clothes that I want to give my kids. And it’s too easy to click “Buy Now” when I’m scrolling through Amazon.com’s Daily Deals. They don’t need buckets full of toys or closets packed with clothing, though. By having fewer things, I’m hoping we can have more time and attention for each other. I would also like to focus on making homemade presents and giving experiences (like a coupon for a special movie and dinner together) rather than more stuff from the store. Easier said than done, but we will try!
Asher and Annabelle are too young to volunteer or donate money, but my hope is that by fostering an attitude of gratitude now, my kids will grow up wanting to give to others. In the meantime, I will try my best to be an example of generosity for them. And since there are so many wonderful organizations in our community that assist those in need, it’s easy to find a way to help. Here are just a few organizations you might check out.
1) The Idaho Food Bank — A couple of weeks ago, Fit4Mom Boise and Fit4Mom Meridian teamed up to collect food for The Idaho Food Bank and spend an evening volunteering in their warehouse. We had a fun time chatting while we bagged apples and carrots. Since the Idaho Food Bank is able to recruit so many volunteers, they don’t have to hire many employees, which allows them to be super efficient with all of the donations they receive. If you are interested in volunteering, just go to their website and fill out a quick form. You can volunteer on your own, with your family (children as young as eight years old are welcome to volunteer), or even with a group of friends or colleagues. It’s fun, easy, and a great way to help distribute the 14.4 million meals that the Idaho Food Bank provides. And if you click here, you can make a monetary donation and help some of the 240,000 Idahoans who are struggling with hunger.
2) Agency for New Americans — Boise welcomes refugees from Afghanistan, Burma, Burundi, Bhutan, Colombia, Congo, Iraq, and Somalia. These families (often with small children) are escaping violence, ethnic cleansing, torture, war, and other atrocities. The Agency for New Americans helps them begin their new lives in safety. The organization provides education and support so that refugees can learn English, find jobs, and learn about resources in our community. From helping to set up apartments to becoming a mentor for a newly arrived family, there are many ways to volunteer. Check out their website for a complete description of opportunities and to fill out a volunteer interest form. The Agency for New Americans also accepts donations. Cash and gift cards are most helpful, but there is also a need for gently used items. You can find a list and details about donating here.
3) City Light Home for Women and Children — Homeless women and children can find food, shelter, and clothing as well as education, work-search assistance, and mental-health programs at City Light. There are many different ways to share your time with this organization. In the past I’ve helped out at the front desk — buzzing guests in, answering the telephone, and assisting kids with their homework. Volunteers also help watch the children, cook, and serve meals. Just fill out this volunteer form if you would like to get involved. The shelter also accepts donations — just $2.05 will allow them to provide a meal to an individual in need.
Asher and Annabelle have made my world so much more beautiful. It is a gift to witness their big-heartedness and open-mindedness every single day. I hope to help nurture their inherent goodness so we can create lives defined by gratitude and generosity.
As the year comes to a close, my wish is that we all take a moment to reflect on our many blessings and plan new ways to share our love with family, friends, and our fellow community members. Let’s keep an eye on the thermometer and do our best to make sure no one gets too cold.