The Giving Tree

This afternoon I had a quick half-hour to myself. In a bookstore. Now, with books being a complete weakness of mine, this scenario can be nearly as dangerous to my wallet as a solo shopping trip to Target. You know what I’m talking about…

Target is like a casino

Luckily for me I was shopping for a birthday present… for a seven-year-old… so that narrowed my focus a bit. Until I spotted this.

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And I  just had to have it.

Now for the past several weeks, the kids and I have been reading another Silverstein classic:

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Every few nights we’ll read aloud a handful of poems. And it just makes me happy. And it makes my kids happy. And clearly all of that happiness necessitated today’s purchase of The Giving Tree.

I couldn’t wait until bedtime for us to begin reading! With my son on my left, and my daughter on my right, I began to read aloud. About a boy and a tree.

And then the strangest thing happened. I began to cry. Tears started welling in my eyes and a lump formed in my throat. I wasn’t sure if I’d make it through the book.

And the boy loved the tree. And the tree was happy. The tree gave and gave, and loved and loved. And the boy took and took. And he loved. And as the boy grew, the tree remained. Unwavering. He gave everything for the boy. And was happy with nothing more than the boy’s presence.

OH MY GRACIOUS. I was a wreck. But somehow I managed to pull it together to finish the book before tucking my hearts into their beds. First my daughter and then my son. My five-year-old. Who starts kindergarten in just over a week.

As he and I were walking out of my daughter’s room, my son jumped into my arms and said, “Mommy I’m the boy, and you’re the tree, and I’m swinging on your branches.”

As if on cue, I began to swing him around, hugging him tightly as I pretended to be the tree. And as we stepped inside his room, I sat with him on the floor and kissed his cheek before saying, “And the tree loved the boy.”  To which he so sweetly and innocently replied, “And the boy loved the tree.”

It was a moment in time, a few minutes really, that wish I could have captured forever. But as five-year-old boys do, he quickly hopped up from my lap… and started to karate-chop me.

Alas, the moment had passed.  I said, “Whoa! Be nice to the tree.” 

“Oh mommy… you’re the stump now.”

Thought for the day: Read with your kids. Cherish the moments. Mix the old in with the new. Read stories that stretch their imaginations. And while you’re reading, listen to what the words are really saying. Chances are, the story is so much deeper than the print on the page.

Practicing What I Preach: When I bought both Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree, I was really buying them for me. To give me an opportunity to transport my kids back to my childhood, one page at a time. To that blue, worn carpet in the elementary school library. To the place where I fell in love with learning. But what I never expected was how different the experience would be for me as an adult. As a parent. Especially with an author like Silverstein, whose words are chocked full of history and context. To a kid, it’s a story about a tree. But to me, tonight, it was a story about me. About you. About them. About life and love. And how quickly it all goes by.

Mission Minded

As the holidays are quickly approaching, I’ve set out to help my children become more mission-minded.  My daughter, in particular, has a case of the “I-wants.”  Like many kids her age (who are also immersed in a material-driven society), she’s fascinated with having stuff.

Now as her mom, I’m partly to blame.  Aside from the grandparents, I’m the guilty party who is primarily responsible for buying my kids stuff.  So it’s important that I also take responsibility for being part of the solution.  It’s important to me to raise kids who value people over things.  Kids who give back.  Kids who are mission-minded.

My husband and I have always tried to give when we can.  Depending on our ability and availability, over the years we’ve given our time, our money, and our resources.  Sometimes all we had to give was time.  But as we’ve learned, it’s not what you give, or where you give it.  What’s important is: you do what you can, when you can, to help someone who is less fortunate.  And we sincerely hope our kids heed this principle.

Why Teach Children about Giving?

To raise future generations of philanthropists, we must teach our children how to give to and serve others.  Research shows that service learning occurs when a child witnesses a primary caregiver or other influential adult modeling voluntary behavior that is intended to help others (Bjorhovde, 2002, p. 9).  More specifically,  this learning is strengthened when the adult helps the child understand the cause and effect of philanthropic behavior and when children are given the opportunity to engage in giving and serving activities.

Ways Children Can Practice Philanthropy

There are countless ways to teach children to care for, serve, and give to others.  Children begin to learn compassion from birth as they connect with their primary caregivers.  As children grow, parents and teachers can be mindful to treat others respectfully and lovingly.  Together with your child, practical ways to give include: volunteering your time in community missions such as food banks, hospitals, nursing homes, or shelters; giving money or other donations such as assisting in charitable fundraising efforts through non-profit organizations, or even canned food drives; or donating resources such as giving outgrown shoes, clothes, and toys to those in need.

Thought for today:

In what ways are you teaching your kids to be mission-minded?

Practicing What I Preach:  This holiday season my kids and I decided to organize a larger-scale packing effort to benefit Operation Christmas Child.  We raised money from family members to sponsor international shoeboxes, we hosted a packing party with school friends, and we helped organize a children’s shoebox project at our church.  To date, we have collectively packed 51 shoeboxes!  This year I wanted to show my kids that while philanthropy begins at home, it doesn’t end there.  I wanted to help them see that when you work together for a cause that’s important to you, great things can happen.

(A huge THANK YOU to the family, school friends, and church members who helped support our effort to make Christmas a bit brighter for these children!)

Reference: Bjorhovde, P. O. (2002). Teaching philanthropy to children: Why, how, and what. New Directions For Philanthropic Fundraising, 36, 7-20.

The Gatekeeper

When I first became a mom, like many newbie parents, I thought I had to do it all.  That if I wasn’t at the forefront of every parenting decision made, well then, things wouldn’t be done correctly.

I know, it’s hard to believe that I was ever a control freak or a perfectionist.

(To put things in context, though, that was also during the life stage when I organized my linen closet by color, size, and style — and made sure everything was folded perfectly and that all folds were facing the same direction.)

Clearly those days are long gone, and I had WAY too much time on my hands.

Yes, parenting has fully changed my perspective on a lot of things.

You see, one day I had an epiphany: I married a man who was fully capable of making parenting decisions on behalf of our kids.  I had a partner in the parenting process.  (In reflection, however, he probably wishes I’d go back to those days of me doing a little more and him doing a little less!)

I was reminded of this tonight.  As I type, I’m supposed to be at church volunteering in our Wednesday night children’s ministry.  But, alas, I’m at home recouping from a doctor’s appointment and catching up on work.  So, my gracious husband is filling in for me—as one of the teachers in the Pre-K through 2nd grade class.  That’s love, folks.

Five years ago, by my accord, this wouldn’t have happened.  But little by little I learned to stop being a gatekeeper and start embracing help from others.  Now I frequently quote the “It takes a village” mantra as I humbly recognize all that others can offer my kids (and me!). With the help of grandparents, extended family, church family, teachers, school parents, colleagues, and most of all, my husband, together we make things work.  And my kiddos are loved by many.

Thought for today:  Embrace your village.  And if you don’t have one, start networking.  Get to know the other parents in your kid’s class; lean on family or community friends.  And unless you have a valid reason not to, trust your spouse or co-parent to be a great parent too.  Life’s too hard to go at parenthood alone.

Practicing What I Preach:  I have to admit, I’ve become increasingly bad at paying attention to detail.  A life lesson in slowing down.  But whether I overlook a detail or misread the fine print… thankfully my village keeps me going.