Do you have any change to spare?

On Christmas morning, Mom and I took the kids to mass at her church, the parish in which I grew up. The kids and I don’t get to church very much these days, for a lot of reasons (which may or may not be the topic of some future post here in A Mom’s World), but one reason is that I’ve never found another Catholic church that comes close to being like St. Jerome.

So I do look forward to going to church whenever I’m back home. Aside from the recent changes to the prayers (darn it), the place never changes and I find that comforting, even if I’m not a fan of the organist or the vocalist who sings in that annoying impossible-to-understand churchy warble. (During the responsorial psalm, Cooper leaned across his sister and stage-whispered: “What is she saying?” I just shrugged and pretended to mouth the right words.) The interior of St. Jerome is warm and welcoming, soft woods and easy lights, open and unfussy, a throwback to the 1970s. There is nothing cold or imperious about it. It’s the kind of place you’d imagine a pair of guitar-playing folk singers might lead the congregation in singing “The Prayer of St. Francis” — which is exactly what they did when I was a child in those peace-seeking 1970s.

So, while it’s different today in some ways, it’s still part of homecoming, my return to the church where I was married and in which all of my children were baptized, all events long after I’d moved away from the town.

This year’s Christmas mass had an interesting twist. Father David, the pastor, who is pretty forward-thinking in a lot of ways, decided to not give a homily. Instead, he shared, on a big screen, this video:

The 10-minute movie is compelling and beautiful, following a homeless man as he begs for change, which he then gives to others in need. I watched it with Joanna on my lap, whispering in her ear when she didn’t understand what was going on. At points I got teary and hugged Joanna tighter. Though unorthodox in nature (showing a video at church!!), the message was clear: this was the meaning of Christmas.

The other day I found the video on YouTube and watched it again. I was still moved by it. However, I read through the comments and was amazed by how many people just didn’t get it. They found it unrealistic (a homeless man would never give away money — he’d buy himself food! Or alcohol! That’s why he’s homeless in the first place!) and unbelievable (no one just gets hired for a job off the street like that!).

I guess those were the people who missed the point. The video is not supposed to be a documentary, a true-to-life rendition of actual events. It’s a narrative presenting a greater message, hopefully inspiring the viewers to do what the homeless man did — give to others in need. Spark a small change in the world.

It’s the butterfly effect. What you do every day has consequences, big and small, positive or negative. You can yell at your child, or speak with kindness, even when you’re angry or frustrated. You can tailgate the slower driver in front of you when you’re in a hurry to make the train to work or you can back off. You can avert your eyes and walk past the bedraggled woman sitting on the street corner or you can drop a penny in her cup. Who knows what your act of kindness will inspire the receiver to do?

Even when you have nothing, you still have something to offer.  What you choose to offer (something or nothing, good or bad) is entirely up to you. But I guarantee that whatever you give — or don’t — has meaning, and effect.

The video starts and ends with a penny dropped into a cup — the bit of change symbolizes the small things we can do that can add up to create a big difference.

So, buddy, can you spare a dime?

Donating more than hair

I believe that everyone is born with the instinct to help other people.

Some of us outgrow it, some of us don’t.  All kids struggle with sharing, but if you watch closely, you’ll see that more often than not, a child will hug another who is crying, will demand a bandage for a friend’s boo-boo, and decide to give up a beloved toy for someone else who might need it.

Sometimes, kids decide to give a piece of themselves.  Literally.

Today, Mitzi joined the community of thousands of children who donate their hair to worthy organizations.  She chose Wigs for Kids to be the recipient of her 12 inches of wavy locks — hair she’s been growing for nearly two years for just this purpose.

I’m all glowy with pride.  I hope that whatever instinct my 8-year-old daughter has for giving remains intact.  Ray and I try to model such behavior, in church offerings, in my participation in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, in Ray’s pro bono legal work in Boston and the surrounding communities.   Sometimes, we wonder what actually rubs off on the kids.  For now, it’s heartening to see that they have noticed what we do for other people — not much, but giving what we can.

 

 

Here

she is,

before

and 

after

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not easy for a child to change her entire outward appearance — when the stylist cut the ponytail off, Mitzi had a frozen, horrified look on her face.  For so long — a good chunk of her life — she’s had long hair.  To chop it off suddenly, well, it was a little shocking for us both.  I reminded us that it’s just hair — it can grow back.  Once the stylist had done her job, the worry was gone — what a cute ‘do!  Mitzi couldn’t stop admiring herself….

And somewhere, some day, some child undergoing medical treatment for cancer or another disease, or a child born with no ability to grow hair, somewhere, some child will wear my daughter’s hair and will feel good, healthy, normal.

Mitzi will never know who gets her hair — in fact, she may not really remember much of this experience.  But I will.  Forever I will remember that my baby gave what she could so that somebody else could smile.  A piece of herself will travel to another part of the country, and help someone have a better day — maybe even a better life.

How can you not smile?

 

 

The Giving Tree

The other day, Mitzi jumps off the bus and bounds up the walk, clearly fired up about something. “Mommy,” she yells.  “I need to open my piggy bank!”  Turns out her teacher reminded them of the school-wide program, Pennies for People, in which students bring in change or bills, all to be donated to a local women’s shelter.  I watched, bemused, as my first born emptied her life savings into a plastic bag.

“Why don’t you keep your dollars?”  I said.  “You should have a couple to save.”  After some cajoling, and with Muggy’s help, Mitzi relented and kept three one-dollar bills, and took away probably $20 in changes she’s been collecting these seven years.

I was a little stunned.  We talk about people who don’t have it as nice as we do, usually in the context of “why you should eat your nice food” or “why you should put away your lovely toys”.  But in their eyes you can kind of see the kids are on a different page, one that hasn’t come face to face with some harsh realities of the world around them.

At this time of year parents are always eager to take kids’ focus off the gifts and put it more onto the giving.  Yet, so many parents seem to give in to the gimmes — a Nintendo DS here, a cell phone there, a full-sized electric car.  I don’t get it.

For us, it’s impossible to buy a lot.  That’s just our reality now.  And maybe I would, if I could.  I don’t know.  Luckily, the kids are still young enough to not yet beg for the three dozen hot items of the shopping season.  That will be coming soon enough.  But this year their desires are small, with Ellie and Joanna struggling to come up with even a single idea, the concept of Christmas and Santa and lists still a bit beyond their years.

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Our "Giving Tree"

Everyone gathered around the kitchen table to watch Mitzi’s inspired act of charity, and we started talking about giving, why it’s such a focus at this time of year.  I quoted my Mom:  Your birthday is all about you; Christmas is all about everyone else.  (We also talked a little bit about how charity doesn’t end in January, but that was pushing it a little for their age group, so it’s a chat for another day.)  We tried to come up with some ideas for giving of ourselves, in ways big (Mitzi’s suggestions of donating all of our clothes) and small (Ellie thought that wiping her tush was an act of giving, which, for me, I guess it is).  At the end of this creative discussion, we came up with the idea of our own “Giving Tree.”

Here’s how it works:  Mitzi made a big tree out of craft paper, colored with crayons.  Then she cut (sort of) circles out of construction paper.  Every night after dinner we talk for a few minutes about what we acts of kindness or generosity we did that day.  I write them down on the paper circle “ornament”, that kid tapes it to the tree.  It’s been a huge success.  So far we’ve done such world-changing things as “helped a classmate with his math” and “put away my shoes without complaining.”  Throughout the day I remind them of the nice things they do — and how to do it, when the opportunity arises, such as “Cooper, it would be so kind if you gave Ellie your seat.”  The kids are proud of themselves and love to put up their deeds, excited to see how filled our tree is already.

I know, it’s a bit silly and simple.  Yet here we are, my family and me, every day talking about what we have done for others, not what we are hoping to get from someone.

Next year could be different.  But this year, our giving tree has given us the chance to focus outward.  This year, we are changed.

O, Christmas Tree!