Friday, December 7, 2012

RACK-ing Away We Go.

Friends, I am happy to report that our Random Acts of Christmas Kindness 2012 has been, so far, a success.

I have doubted whether or not we would be able to keep up the momentum or the ideas flowing, and although some days are more hectic than others, the shorties ask me every day, "So. What's our Act of Kindness going to be today?"

Knock me over with a feather.

Now, before you all go thinking that I'm trying to paint this as a Norman Rockwell picture, and that I am trying to make you believe that my kids are perfect, little angels, I will have you know that I am not saying any such thing. However, for about 15 minutes to a half hour every day, I get a "kindness respite" from all the fighting, whining and complaining. A kindness respite from our usual busy day. A kindness respite from the status quo. For this short amount of time every day we are all engaged in nothing else but promoting a little kindness in the world.

And friends? It is a wonderful thing. 

The kids learned the meaning of the word, "covert" as we laid in wait until our local Redbox machines were free from prying eyes as we ran over with bags of microwave popcorn with our RACK note taped to the front and clear shipping tape. It became a series of hilarious drive-bys as the tires of our black Honda Odyssey minivan screeched to a stop at the curb in front of drug store or grocery store, we spotted our Redbox target and I shouted as the side doors slid open, "OUT! OUT! EVERYBODY OUT! NO ONE IS AT THIS ONE! MAKE IT QUICK!"

Then there was the day that I was on Facebook and one of my college friends, Amye, posted a link about how she and her kids were going to write letters to our brave military servicemen and veterans. The program is called, "Holiday Mail for Heroes".

A beautiful idea indeed. Don't mind if we do.

I spoke to the shorties about bravery and sacrifice as my husband and I often do when we speak to them about the United States military, and how we should never, ever take the people that protect our country and our freedoms for granted. I gave them an example about what to write when I told them what I was writing in my letter. Their letters were sweet and innocent, and somewhat hilarious in a way that only kids can write, but I won't share them, as those thoughts are their own, and those thoughts are private. However, I did snap a picture of the outside of the envelope in case you are interested in the address and would like to write a letter of your own.

Another day we decided to pay a visit to our local fire station to thank a few of the firefighters in person for the work they do to keep us safe. The kids decided that we should bring them a dozen of these donuts. 

I threw in four more - one for each of them - because surprisingly, they did not whine and beg me to buy them one too. NOT whining is rewarded with a snowman donut. 

As we pulled up to the fire station, I realized I had a bit of a nervous pit in my stomach as my kids pummeled me with questions like, "Mommmmmm! What do we say? Do we just hand them the donuts and run?" 

"We're just going to thank them for all they do. I'll do the talking, and if you feel like saying something just do it, okay?"

A covert act of kindness is one thing, but this would be the first time we would be walking up to random strangers basically all, "Yo. Thanks for choosing such a dangerous line of work and running into burning buildings and showing up at car accidents to save the lives of total strangers. You're awesome, and you're a hero. Now take these donuts."

Well, maybe that wasn't my exact script, but that's how it was beginning to sound in my head.

We walked through the front doors of the fire station after school that day, and we were immediately greeted by an older woman with a smile and a, "Can I help you with something?"

All four kids stood behind me as I held a box of a dozen Krispy Kremes and I started out by saying, "Um...yes. Our family is practicing Random Acts of Christmas Kindness this holiday season, and we decided to come today and thank the firefighters who keep us safe every day."

Then I stopped and waited for her reaction for what seemed like minutes, but was actually only about 3 seconds. 

Her smile grew larger and she threw her hands up and said, "Really?! Well aren't you all the sweetest things?!? I love that! I just LOVE that!"

I started to hand her the box of donuts, but she said, "Oh NO! You are going to come back to meet the firefighters! I want them to see this!" as she started walking down a hallway and waved for us to follow. We followed and she called their names and couldn't seem to find anyone, and finally took us all back to their living quarters, giving us a tour along the way. She explained that a few medics had just gone out on a call, but we finally found a few of the men back there, and she introduced us. They had just finished their workout, and admittedly I felt a bit foolish standing there handing three sweating men a dozen, fattening donuts. 

But it's the thought that counts, right?

I said to the men as I handed one of them the box of donuts, "Hi! My kids and I are trying to spread some spirit this holiday season, and we wanted to thank you, especially, for keeping our community safe!"

They were grateful, but very humble as they all said something like, "Thank you, but it's nothing. It's just our job."

Humble bravery at its finest, friends.

We chatted with them some more, and they took the kids around the fire station and told them they could climb in the trucks.

And what kid doesn't love to climb in a big, red fire truck? 

I've yet to meet one that doesn't.

As we left, I thanked them again and joked with them that I hoped I would never meet them again - at least in a professional capacity. 

The next day, the shorties were less than thrilled, after their fire station experience, that we would be putting money in Salvation Army red kettles. But I reminded them that if everyone put even just a little bit of pocket change into a bucket, just imagine the result. 

They could not imagine the result. "This is boooooring," they whined.

So I went to the Salvation Army's website after our "boring" money drop, and I signed up for our family to work a shift at a red kettle, ringing a bell and collecting money. The application encourages people to sing, dance, play an instrument or use their talents to collect money.

Oh. My. Friends. We got this. We have SO got this.

We might be taking our kitchen dance party to the streets, and adding a bell, and kettle, and Christmas music. Jingle bells and Santa hats WILL be involved. 

I am giddy at the thought.

After I specified the days and times we could work a shift, "Our family would love the opportunity to ring a bell for your Red Kettle campaign. We would sing Christmas carols and spread Christmas cheer."

And we might just bust out some sweet dance moves. 

I will keep you posted.

The next day, I read on Facebook that our local police department was collecting new, unwrapped toys for the United States Marines' annual "Toys for Tots" campaign. I told the shorties that we would be going to Target after school that day, and I gave them each a budget for a toy that they could choose. I reminded them that this toy would be GIVEN AWAY. 

A few years ago, when the shorties were much younger and I was still drilling the idea of CHARITY into their little minds, I plucked four tags of four children off the giving tree at our church and I took my four shorties to the store to pick out a toy for these children. I imagined us happily walking the aisles, picking out toys for these children. My daughter was a baby, and my third son was just a toddler, so I picked out their items, but I let my older two boys pick out the toys for the other two. I was mortified as crying and whining ensued, and shouts of, "NO. FAIR!!!! These kids get all these cool toys and we are getting NOTHING today! NO FAIR!!!!" Temper tantrums followed these rants. 

At that moment, in a random aisle at Target, I felt like a failure as a parent. I felt like I was raising entitled brats who cared about nothing and no one but themselves. 

And I let them hear it, standing there, in a random aisle at Target. I got in their little red, crying punk faces and I wagged my finger and lectured to them about the importance of helping others. I lectured about how these kids might not even have homes to live in. I lectured about how to some children, this might be one of their only presents this year. I lectured about how they have NO idea about how good they have really have it. Oh, friends, I lectured them good. Then I grabbed a few toys, paid for them, and then grabbed my punky, now-quiet shorties and I got the heck out of there. 

But that was years ago. And we have made progress.

So when I announced the other day that we would each be buying a toy for the "Toys for Tots" toy drive, my announcement was met with shouts like, "Fun!" and "Cool!" I quietly said to myself that we've come a long way, baby.

Yesterday, however, was one of my favorite RACKs.

As I have mentioned before, my mother-in-law lived in an assisted living facility for about 6 months before passing away this past July. Up until then, I had not had much of an experience with this kind of place. This particular one was a pleasant, positive upbeat place to be, and I loved walking through the front door, because the elderly residents would be sitting in their wheelchairs or on the couches, or on the rocking chairs on the front porch, and they would want to chat.

And Lord knows, I do love me a good chat. 

Sometimes it would be a quick chat about the weather. Sometimes they would ask who I was visiting, and when I told them, they would ask how my MIL was feeling, and "Could you please tell her that we miss her at mealtime?" Sometimes the ladies would whistle and cat call my husband, which of course, caused him great embarrassment, but he took it in stride.

All they wanted to do was chat, and it made me realize how lonely it must be, growing old alone, away from family and friends. No matter how old we get, we still crave companionship. 

The other day, I bought five poinsettia plants and we drove to an assisted living place near my home, and we decided to hand them out. I wasn't quite sure how the whole operation would go down, because there were five of us, with five plants, and way more than five residents in this facility. 

But we were excited, and decided to give it a go.

We walked through the front doors of the building, and we were greeted by a young woman. I explained that we were there to spread a little Christmas cheer, and could we please hand out a few of these plants to some residents? 

Once again, I was unsure of how our plan would be received. 

Fortunately, they were touched and thrilled, and all for it. 

The director of the building suggested that we walk the hallways and place plants randomly at doors so that no one felt favored or left out. 

The names of the residents were posted on placards outside their doors, so we decided to choose two men, and two women who would be the recipients of our Christmas cheer. We placed the plant outside of the closed door with our RACK card, and then hunted for our next target.

We still had one poinsettia plant, and we were going to randomly drop it in front of an apartment door, but I spotted a elderly woman sitting in the front lobby in a wheelchair, and she had been watching us. 

Target spotted. Time for a chat.

I motioned for the kids to follow me, and we approached her. "Hello! Happy Holidays! How are you doing today?" I asked.

"Your kids are just darling!" she said.

"Thank you!" I said, and continued, "We are here today passing out poinsettias, and trying to spread a little holiday cheer. Would you like a poinsettia plant today?" 

"Oh dear, I would LOVE one."

And then we chatted for a few. 

Because I'm always up for a nice little chat.

And a a little RACK-ing.

Happy RACK-ing to you all, friends.