Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

From the bean of Green Bean.

I clicked on it. The title was too enticing. Secret Santas in 3 states spread cheer, $100 bills. And then, I started bawling. I am a sucker for those types of stories. Stories where people find something beautiful and generous inside themselves.

I wondered who those Secret Santas were, where they came from. I wondered how they, unlike millions of others, were able to step out of the gimme culture and, instead, seek the high of giving. And I wondered where we can find more givers.

This month's APLS Carnival gave me the answer.

They are right under our noses. Literally. Or crawling under our desks while we type. Slipping into our beds early, waaaayyyy too early, in the morning. Playing hide and seek in our closets. Digging through our pantries and refrigerators. Safely buckled in in the back seat.

Those givers are the next generation, our future, our most precious resource, our kids. If we choose.

Because there is only one sure fire way to raise a generation of givers - of people who care for one another, for animals, for the planet - and that is to make them from scratch.

And there is no better time for baking than the holidays. That is why I gobbled up library book after library book last Christmas looking to transform a tradition of gifts received and stockings stuffed into one of beauty, of meaning, of giving. I found plenty of ideas: Read your children books where generosity is a theme. Give them experiences instead of just stuff. Let them see adults helping others. Institute 12 Days of Meaningful Gifts (e.g., let someone cut in line, don't nag the children for a day, rake your neighbor's lawn).

This Christmas, my husband and I continued our efforts to raise the next generation of Secret Santas in these few ways:

My boys' Advent calendar is mostly stocked with promises for movie nights and picnics in front of the fire. After my six year old's eyes welled up with tears at the thought of Santa not providing people in Africa with all the toys and food they could want, we added something else to the Advent calender: the opportunity to be Santa's helpers. We watched video clips on the Heifer International site, talked about how our lives, homes, clothes, holidays were different than the people in those videos and what our gift of a chicken, a goat or some bees might mean to those people. Both boys were delighted to help Santa and select an animal for a family in an undeveloped country. In fact, they are so excited that my four year old dragged out the "airplane" he and Daddy had built from wood scraps and said he would deliver his chicken himself - if only I would give him a map to Africa.

We also continued our tradition of giving to the birds and small animals during the Christmas season. We are fortunate enough to have generous friends - a neighbor who gave me a box of birdseed she couldn't use, a friend at the farmers' market who insisted I take some Indian corn. One December afternoon, we sat around the kitchen table and slathered the corn with peanut butter, rolled it in bird seed, and then tied the husks to some backyard trees. The boys talked, with great anticipation, as to what type of animal would come? Would it be a blue jay to discover the ears first? Or perhaps that cute little black squirrel born in my neighbor's tree last spring? Would our gift of corn and seeds help some small creature make it through the winter?

Of course, giving can be taught year round but the holidays offer a special opportunity to highlight the importance and the joy that comes from reaching out instead of in.

So, with all this talk of giving, are children truly our most precious resource? Will what we teach them make a difference?

Children are the hopes and fears for every one of us - parent or no. They are, quite literally, our future. They could make up an army of peace corps volunteers as climate change barrels down on those regions stricken by poverty and war. They could join arms and hold off bulldozers destined for a new coal plant or a wildlife sanctuary. They could shift the American paradigm away from iPhones and Xboxes to microloans and food pantries. They could create a new tradition of sustainable agriculture as aging farmers - median age is over 60 - retire. They could, and if Mr. Obama has his way, will offer invaluable service to the citizens of this country, of this planet.

Is it worth it to go out of our way to instill a bit of generosity in the small heart of a preschooler? To teach the importance of community to a iPoded teenager? To help a tween learn to knit or inspire a older child to head up a recycling program at his school?

I can't imagine a greater gift than to teach our next generation the gift of giving.

This is the Booth's second submission (read the first one here) for the APLS Carnival. If you would like to participate, send your submission to aplscarnival(at)gmail(dot)com by Sunday, December 14. The carnival is live at Going Green Mama on December 15.


Electronic Goose said...

Great ideas, love the bird feed activity. I've been thinking about how to raise a generous child for awhile now (as Bean cries in the background) and this post adds fodder to my thoughts.

Jenn said...

what a wonderful, wonderful post! great ideas!

Donna said...

heWonderful post! I smiled at the airplane story -- you better not give him that map or he might just try it!

badhuman said...

My mom definitely raised me to be a giver. A couple times a year we would go through my toys and I would help decide which ones would be donated and the same with clothes. She could have done this (with less tears involved) herself but involving me taught me the importance of giving. Each Christmas I remember adopting angels off the angel tree and picking out presents for them as well. Now I continue those traditions with my husband.

Going Crunchy said...

Awesome post! I love to see these ideas come to fruition in my children's actions.

Going Green Mama said...

I love that the Santas have spread! I lived in Kansas City for years, and a businessman who passed away a few years ago was notorious for spreading "Christmas cheer" to those in need.

But we don't have to have hundreds to make a huge difference in someone's life. I hope we don't forget that!

Going Green Mama said...

Because it's such a cool story - here is the link on the Secret Santa. Definitely worth a read!

Joyce said...

Excellent post! I hope this is the direction Christmas goes for all of us.

kale for sale said...

You are a gift! What a great post.

I also have to tell you that the cute guys oldest son was in McDonalds a week ago with his wife and four kids and a man in a suit came and put a hundred dollar bill on their table. With four kids they didn't see the money until the man was gone. At home they talked to the kids about how they could pass the gift on to someone that would need it as they have everything. My heart gets big just remembering the story.

Green Bean said...

EG: Thank you. I think there are so many ways to teach our kids to be generous. It is so great that you are thinking of these things this early. What a great, generous little guy Bean will be.

Jenn: Thank you!

Donna: You are right! I dare not even point him in that direction or he'll try to take off.

Badhuman: It is wonderful to hear the reprecussions of teaching generosity. Clearly your mother did something right. Thank you for the additional ideas and inspiration.

Going Crunchy: It is fantastic, isn't it, to see the pay off when your kids do something generous.

Going Green Mama: Great article. Thank you for sharing! We should all do something Secret Santa-ish this season.

Joyce: Me too!

Katrina: What a wonderful story. We can all be inspiratons (even without $100 bills) and we can all pay it forward. Thanks for sharing.

JessTrev said...

OK, I completely teared up just reading about your son and the wooden airplane.

This is going to be odd in this context but I actually don't believe that one can teach empathy any more than any other character trait. I think a lot is hard wired. I say this so that you won't beat yourself up if your sons turn out to be Alex P Keatons. :)

That said, the 1 or 2% of influence we really have to nurture the people we love goes a long way. So I say, go for it! I can't wait to hear more about what you have learned. Would love to read more posts about this topic!

Alline said...

I LOVE the 12 Days of Meaningful Gifts...wish I would have read this sooner! I'm filing it away for next November...
Thanks so much!


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