“Mr. Hall has had a rough year, mom. That’s what Jake said. That’s why we need to be extra kind to him. He is going to LOVE this,” Kendall said as he put the finishing touches on a secret gift for our neighbor.
Last Saturday morning our elf made his return for the season. I know you might be thinking I’m anti Elf On A Shelf, but I’m not. I even enjoy watching all the elaborate set-ups my friends come up with for their kids. It’s a joy to watch their joy in doing these things.
Me, though, I’ve learned to edit my commitments to things like this, and then edit again. Each year since our elf Jake showed up 3 years ago, I’ve made his visit a little less elaborate, and a little shorter.
10 days. That’s all I can do right now. So he arrived on the 14th.
A few days before, I wondered what I would have him do for the kids. Should I try to do just a few funny, mischievous setups? Maybe he could bring them a new pair of socks and underwear each day? It would be funny AND useful. I have very little tolerance for non-useful stuff lately.
The first year, he brought Kendall a tiny new ornament EVERY. MORNING. I think that was rock-bottom of the hyper-new-parent-forcing-joy thing for me. Thank God Kendall was not old enough to remember that and expect it the next year when I had a 2nd baby and was
less ridiculous more realistic.
This year I’ve been super sensitive to the entitlement around here. I can’t fault my 5 year old. For one, he’s 5. I think it’s natural for 5 year olds to mostly think about themselves. That said, 5 is plenty old enough to start learning to think of others.
I’ve tried talking to him about how fortunate we are, reminding him to be grateful for the things he takes for granted. Tasks to clean out toys to donate to the local shelter always lead to him negotiating and asking what’s in it for him. It is one of the biggest hot buttons for me as a parent.
If there is one thing my children will learn before they leave this house, it is to give from their heart to those who need it.
So on Saturday, Jake arrived with nothing more than a message on our iPad and a couple dollar bills. I will make this elf work for ME, dammit.
As we walked up to the woman collecting money for a local women and children’s shelter, hot chocolate in hand, it began.
“But I want hot chocolate, mom! Is she going to give me a hot chocolate if I give her one? What is she going to give me?” Kendall whined.
“It’s not about you, Kendall,” I calmly responded, not yet realizing this would become my mantra for this challenge and I would say it often.
He reluctantly posed for the picture, then gladly took the balloon sword she offered him. She was selling them for $1 donations, so the money they donated meant they both got one.
As I tucked him into bed that night, I told him I was so excited we were able to give the woman hot chocolate and donate money to her cause. He pouted because his balloon sword popped.
I sighed… then I set up the next day’s challenge, laying 2 Angel Tree tags next to the iPad and Jake.
We shopped for 2 kids from the local Angel Tree program the next day, and I spent nearly the entire time in Target repeating, “It’s not about you, Kendall. This is not for you. We are not looking for you. We are not buying for you.”
He whined, cried at one point, pouted, demanded I add the items we were buying for the kids to his Christmas list. I forced him to stand next to the tree and smile for a picture.
And then I pressed on, setting up the next day’s challenge after bedtime, and after popping 2 Advil. I had a fever, a sore throat. I was exhausted.
On the 3rd day, Jake challenged Kendall to bring some coffee to the people who work in his school’s front office. I drove to Einstein’s to pick up a gallon of coffee while Scott got him dressed. He drove him to school and helped him deliver everything. I was too sick to even try.
“Did you remember to get a picture?” I asked when Scott walked back in the door.
“Heh. Yeah. He was… thrilled,” Scott replied. I could tell he was wondering why I was even bothering with all of this. Honestly, I was starting to, too.
UGHHHHHH. I wanted to growl, but I took a nap, instead. When I woke up, I wondered if I was trying to force something that wasn’t there yet. I wondered if 10 days of random acts of kindness was too much for a 5 year old. I wondered if I was wasting my time when I was already short on it and would rather be nursing this cold.
But I couldn’t back out. Jake already committed us to this challenge. If I changed things up or just stopped altogether, I undermined Jake.
That night I set up the challenge for the next day- a donation to the local animal shelter. Jake asked us to buy a bag of dog food and deliver it.
“What? Dogs don’t have homes sometimes? But why? I love dogs!” he said as we drove to the shelter.
Dare I say, he delivered that bag of dog food with glee. We got to spend a few minutes with one of the canine residents, and he left telling me, “Maybe on Friday, instead of playing video games, we can come back here and play with more dogs!”
“Maybe,” I smiled back and wrapped my arm around his shoulder.
I knew the next day would be super busy, and the random act of kindness would need to be simple. Jake showed up with a plastic bag and a challenge to fill it with trash.
Kendall leapt out of the car at Target, “Oh! I see some, mom. Come on!”
We spent 10 minutes picking up trash along the front of the store before heading inside for some groceries. He skipped along, barely getting one piece in the bag before running off for another. I had to cut him off when the wind started to pick up and the bag was mostly full.
Today, Jake asked him to help me make a small gift for our neighbor and leave it on his door-step. He told Kendall that our neighbor has had a rough year, and that I could explain more.
I told Kendall that our neighbor, an older man, lost his wife this summer and now he’s really sick. (Last we heard, they thought he had liver cancer.)
I wasn’t met with any eye-rolls or exasperated sighs about how “this is going to be booooorrrring.”
“So we need to be extra kind to him, right mom?”
Tonight, my five year old and I put a soft blanket and a small gift card for a coffee shop in a gift bag. He wrote the card, and signed it “Secret Santa.”
We quietly snuck next door and crept up onto the pitch black front porch. We dropped the gift near the front door, then ran like crazy when we heard a dog barking inside. We gave each other high fives on our own front porch when we were in the clear.
Kendall beamed from ear to ear. “YES! WE DID IT!”
Tonight, I experienced the most joyous Christmas moment of my life… so far. We’re only halfway through our Random Acts Of Kindness Elf challenge.
Thank you, Jake, for showing my kid how magical giving to others can be, and for giving me the honor of watching him make the discovery.