Thursday, December 08, 2011

better than fish eye soup

This is that time of year where we all get caught up in the season... picking out special items for our little ones... crafting our fingers off for family and friends... baking and eating like mad... making lists, checking them twice and all that jazz. I have to say first, I don't think there is anything wrong with giving your kids gifts and spoiling the tar out of them. I am very stingy about not buying toys for Zach or Naia during the year. I do not fall prey to the little trinkets at the hardware store or "just one thing" at the market. I am very comfortable saying no day to day. Which is why I don't mind giving generously (yet choosing carefully) for the holidays to my kiddos. With Christmas, Hanukkah, and Solstice all getting equal time in our family we live it up.
But like many parents I want to make sure my kids realize how lucky they are, I want them to be grateful. Back in my day, when I would sneer at the food on my plate and refuse to finish my dinner (my dad would make things like fish eye soup and made meals from a books called A Russian Jew Cooks In Peru, really can you blame me?) My dad would give me the line. You know the one. "There are children starving in China who would kill for your fish eye soup! How could you turn your nose up at a warm meal?!" And like every kid who has been the recipient of this line, I went rummaging for a box and some postage stamps ready and willing to send my soup to those poor kids in China.

The moral of the story? You can not guilt kids into gratitude. Nor can you lecture them. And while you can plan a charitable act for your family... if you the parent are the one who starts it the lesson falls a little flat. I really believe that when kids come up with ideas from their own hearts and minds it sticks with them.

So as I was filling our winter book basket with Astrid Lindgren stories and our anthology of Jan Brett Christmas tales I tossed in a few extra reads. I didn't say anything. I just placed them in the middle of the basket to see what would happen.
I found him one morning curled up with the "catalogs" from Save The Children and Heifer International. I said nothing and went about my business. He finally looked up after a long while. "Mom, are there really kids who can't afford a soccer ball? Or even art supplies?"

Yes that's true of many kids.

"Mom, did you know we can give some family honeybees? We can send them honeybees for a gift and then they will have all that delicious honey and all that wax. It's only $30 mom. Can we do that? Or wait, look at this. a whole flock of baby chicks for only $20! Then they would always have eggs to eat. We need to send chickens too so they won't be hungry anymore."


Before long he was scurrying about his room and came up with a bag of HotWheels and tears in his eyes. "I don't need ALL of these cars. We should send them along with our honeybees. Those kids should at least get some cars to play with."

"Oh Z, that's a very nice thing to do. But why are you crying?"

"Because sometimes doing the right thing makes you feel happy and sad at the same time."

The moment was completely his own. Sure I cleared the trail, but he chose to walk it. No syrupy mommy led project. No lectures about kids starving in other parts of the world while he picks at his dinner. Along with his toys and books and stocking stuffer surprises, I am happy knowing I gave him something that will hopefully last and grow in his heart for years to come.

Heifer International
Save The Children
World Wildlife Organization
Kiva (a great way for older kids to get involved, support a small business, and track its progress)

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