Giving Thanks (and prioritizing service)
Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I hope you are having a lovely day with your loved ones stuffing your faces with Turkey and stuffing. I’m up in Sacramento with my family having a wonderful week and feeling very, very grateful.
This time of year can easily become overwhelming with work, shopping, events, parties, decorating, etc. And while the holidays can feel like such a fun and warm time for many of us, the holidays can be especially difficult for some. There are so many people who are suffering, depressed, in need, neglected, and this year we (my family and company) didn’t do enough to help. I don’t need to explain to you how I should be grateful – you folks see my life. The guilt of my privilege has been at an all time high recently, and then even worse is the guilt of not having my guilt be as strong year round. I fear I’m failing myself, my community, and my kids by not making service a larger part of my every day.
I grew up in a small-ish town, as a member of the LDS (Mormon) church, where service and helping others is an integral part of the culture. My parents took in foster kids, we helped families move or paint their homes on the weekends, and created survival boxes for natural disaster victims or developing countries. It wasn’t about being wealthy and helping those less fortunate (we were a family of 7 living on two teacher salaries). It was wasn’t about assuaging guilt. It was just what you did – you helped people. I remember one time in my 20s when I called my mom from New York on a Saturday night, probably tipsy, asked her what she was doing, and she said, ‘Oh, just sewing quilts for Katrina victims, watching The Commish.’ They are those people. I take no credit for this – I was just a kid and doing what I was told and showing up to help when my parents told me to. But what is remarkable is how normal it became – how much a part of our every day (or week) it was. And it’s become clear that it’s something I’m missing in my adult life.
Of course I’m not suggesting that you need a church or a religion as your motivation to service (or be a good person in general). As I’ve gotten older and able to give more, I’ve tried to carve out a portion of my business/life to help others (the family shelter, Sylvia’s house, Miry’s list) but the last year I’ve just gotten too caught up. I’m ‘too busy.’ It’s like anything in life – you have to prioritize it to make it happen. Ideally you do it enough to the point that it really becomes a part of your life, and a part of your family culture. Donating money to causes and organizations you believe in is important and lovely (and sometimes the best option, as it helps fund those who have training to do work that maybe you don’t or can’t yourself like emergency response teams or doctors), but there are still a lot of opportunities to do physical service in our own cities. I think we have lost a lot of that ‘culture of service’ because our communities are different from how they used to be, especially those of us who live in large cities.
We don’t all attend the same church, school, or live in the same neighborhood so the opportunity for easily organized service projects is greatly diminished. We live in these micro-bubbles within a big city, and Los Feliz (my neighborhood) doesn’t have too much in-need. And in our modern lives it’s very easy to become super busy, stay local to our tiny bubbles, and keep the overwhelming amount of poverty and gentrification happening in greater Los Angeles out of our daily line of sight. And the longer you go without seeing this, being confronted by it, or being directly affected by it, the less permeable your bubble becomes and the more you forget that it is a daily reality for so many that also live in your city, maybe just a few miles away. It should be a responsibility of the privileged to help those in need, not an option. We don’t just get to live in our bubble without stepping outside, seeing where there is need, and then sacrificing time and resources to help. And it’s especially important to be teaching this lessons to our kids. It’s not their fault that they aren’t being raised by service-oriented people like my parents (who are literally on a mission in Samoa right now, working with teachers on developing effective teaching methods). But as someone who believes that the best way to parent is to model good behavior, it’s our job to teach them service year-round and we shouldn’t need to rely on an organization (or a holiday season) to do that. We need to show them what it means to be a good citizen/neighbor/ally/person, right now. They aren’t going to pick it up from TV, read it in a book, or learn about it from their friends. You can’t tell kids how to be a good person, and no, it can’t be just once a year. You have to show what it means to be good, early, and most importantly, often. I’m talking to myself, here.
So we are brainstorming what we can do this season and carry into the year both as a family and as company, and I’d love both your help and input. I have some ideas for the year regarding service projects (still organizing, but stay tuned). But what do you do during the holidays with your kids to help others and teach them the principals of service? Our kids are obviously very young so their abilities are limited and their capacity of understanding the situation is not great. I also don’t want to do something they aren’t ready for just to make myself feel like a good parent. For instance last year we had Charlie ‘save’ money in a piggy bank from coins he found around the house, of which he barely did and I mostly just shoved my change in there. Then we went to the store to buy Sylvia, our nanny whom we love, a gift from ‘him’ and it really didn’t play out like I had fantasized. He wasn’t even 3 yet. We entered and he b-lined for the toys. I kept saying over and over ‘honey, what do you think Sylvia would really like?’ and over and over he insisted either a Spiderman or a firetruck. A tantrum almost ensued and I must have sounded like the most cloying, self-righteous parent ever. Then when I forced him to settle on a necklace that he had no connection to whatsoever, we went to the counter to pay with ‘his’ piggy bank. He lost all interest, ran back to the Spiderman and I just looked like the A-hole parent, shaking a piggy bank, trying too hard to teach a kid too young to think about others. He wasn’t ready and the whole thing was far more about me needing to feel like a good parent, than him learning the lesson of sacrifice and consideration. Parenting-fail. But lessons were learned.
We have some ideas of what we can do with the kids mostly about donating toys and helping bake, but I’d love to hear from more experienced parents or anyone, really, what we can do as a tradition to teach our young kids the importance of service.
What do you do?
Meanwhile for those of you in LA who are interested, the EHD crew and my family/friends are going to decorate the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission Family Shelter for the holidays on Sunday, December 3rd, and anybody is welcome to come help. It’s truly an amazing organization that helps families rehabilitate from being homeless and gets them back on their feet. They teach parenting and personal finance skills, help parents get jobs, learn how to cook healthy, budget friendly meals, etc. It’s an incredibly important facility doing necessary work, that doesn’t get nearly enough attention or funding. Right now there are 36 kids and 10 parents living there. When we celebrated the opening of the shelter a few years ago Charlie came, barely a year old. He was a bit too young to understand what was going on, but I think he’s old enough to understand now – we’ve talked a bit about it and he seems to understand that some kids don’t have their own home, which upsets him. Teaching our kids about their privilege (and reminding us) in an environment that is both safe for them, and inclusive to everyone is important for them (and us). Service goes both ways, and while it should be primarily to help those in need with out need of reciprocation, it also helps us to tap into and cultivate that part of our humanity that easily gets shoved and covered while living in a busy, affluent, LA bubble. Service shouldn’t just be to check off that mental box, but to open it and have it be a part of our lives and culture, year-round. In case this feels like a lecture, again, I’m talking to myself here.
So I’d love to invite anyone to come help us on December 3rd from 10 am – 4pm (ish…if we have a lot of help it could be less and if we don’t have enough it might take longer). We’ll get tacos or thai food (my FAVORITE thai food joint is nearby), listen to holiday music, and trim out that lovely space with some of the best social workers I’ve ever met and some lovely families on the mend. Bring anyone – kids, friends, all are welcome.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested, need more information, or simply want to tell us how many you are bringing (so we have enough food!). Target is giving a $1000 gift card (Thank you!) but if you have leftover ornaments or holiday decor, or want to contribute anything let us know. Our goal is to make it dripping with kid-friendly joy and have it be something they/we can easily replicate year after year.
Happy Thanksgiving, folks, from The Hendersons. We are so grateful for the online community you’ve let us create and been apart of, and for letting me turn a hobby into my dream job. I truly hope to spread more joy this season and this year. We are excited to hear about some good kid-oriented (or any really) charitable holiday traditions. Please leave them in the comments…