Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Here Doggie, Doggie

Day 60
 Driving north on Kenwood Road, I see a dog with a collar dart across the street.  I double back when I reach the corner and circle the block.  It may be residual guilt about the dog we hit while driving home on I-65 but I’m determined to find that dog. 

I come around the corner and cut across the parking lot.  Nothing.  I call my husband. 

“I can’t find that dog anywhere!” 

“Maybe you scared him home,” my husband offers helpfully. 

“Because he was afraid of the white car chasing him?”  I doubt this but appreciate my husband’s attempts at making me feel better.

“You can always hope.”  It’s nice when someone throws you a bone. 

The Giving Tree

Day 59
While out running errands, I pick up some mittens at Target for the kids to take into school.  Each December the school secretaries organize a mitten and hat drive.  The woolens hang from branches of two fake evergreens under the main staircase by the cafeteria. 

“I brought some mittens for you to take to school to hang on the tree,” I tell the boys.

“I’m not bringing them,” A. says. 


“I don’t believe in mittens.”  He’s taking a stand against mittens?! 

“Mom, it’s called the Giving Tree,” corrects F.  “Like the book?”  The Shel Silverstein story of a love between a tree and a little boy is one of our favorites.  

In the book, the boy visits the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk.  The tree is happy to give.  As the boy grows older he begins to want more from the tree.  The tree gives the boy all the things that once gave the child joy: first his apples, then his branches, then his trunk, until the tree is nothing but a lowly stump.  The story ends with the little boy, now an old man, sitting on the stump of the tree.  The tree is once again happy. 
It’s a story that resonates with parents as well as kids; a heady concept that shows one’s capacity to love and give with no expectations.    
A. opens a package of two mittens and takes his favorite.  “I guess I’ll take these, but I’m keeping this pair.” 

Maybe I should have started with something simpler.  Taking is the opposite of giving.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Day 58
It’s been a steady rain all day.  Large murky puddles dot the yard.   The invitation is too much for F. who hops from one to the other on his way to the bus stop. 

I love the rain in spring.  A good April shower soaks the flowers and washes away the grim of winter.  Today, it’s an inconvenience during my day of running errands and grocery shopping, of carrying bag after bag from the car with the constant drip, drip on my shoulders. 

I stand beside the woman’s car with my umbrella open.  She looks up, startled.  In truth, I probably scare her, a stranger standing beside her car.  Really, I want to say, I’m only a  soggy-stay-at-home mom. 

“I’ll walk you in so you don’t get wet,” I say and gesture to the umbrella. 

“Aren’t you nice,” she says as she opens her car door, “but I’ve got a hood.”  She indicates her jacket and smiles.  I walk towards the door.

I brought this umbrella and by gosh, I’m going to use it, I think.  I see a dad and his pre-school daughter walking towards their minivan.  I rush over to them.   

“Here,” I shelter his daughter from the rain, “wet, huh?”  She looks at me uncertainly as her dad assures me that she’s fine.  I hold the umbrella over his daughter until she gets into the car.

Satisfied that I’ve harassed enough people for one day, I head home.     

Receiving End

Day 57
I’d like to think its karma. 

Exhausted from the holiday traffic on I-65, the kids, Chaz and I pile out of the car and stumble into Bob Evans.  We need food. 

A man approaches our table and hands us a coupon for a free kids meal.  “You look like you could use this,” he says, smiling at the boys who happily color their menus, thrilled to be out of the car. 

We certainly can.  I. is going through a growth spurt.  Although he measures in the 25th percentile for weight, he packs food away.  Clearly his hollow leg helps.  “Thanks!”

“It’s a random act in reverse!” My husband says.  Yes, yes, it is.    

Keeping it in the Family

Day 56
Whoever dreamt up Medieval Times must have had little boys.  It’s dinner theater where you eat with your hands and cheer on a long haired knight as he jousts on a real horse.  Yes, it is that awesome.  

My three boys and their two boy cousins proudly wear their black and white crowns to show allegiance to our designated knight.  In return, the knight graces us with several Fabio-worthy hair flips that while not historically accurate are entertaining none the less. 

My youngest stands the entire two hours.  Clearly he was born in the wrong century.  Knight blood runs through his veins. 

“This is the best night of my life!” says Ben, my 6-year-old nephew.  

“It’s like Medieval Disney,” my husband comments as we watch the “wenches” hawk their wares: glowing swords, flags, an assortment of other items that will be broken before we arrive home to Cincinnati.   

My husband pulls out his wallet and looks down our row counting all the kids.  “I’ll take five.”  The wench hands each of the boys a black and white striped flag with our knight’s coat of arms.

“Now let’s see some sword fighting!” A. screams and waves the flag wildly.      

Give the Lady a Break

Day 55
There’s something beautiful about being pregnant.  Some glow.  Others grow.  All gain entrance into a secret sisterhood. 

When I was pregnant with my first child I gained 80 pounds.  My husband once asked me if I was making babies or eating them.  He’s the sensitive type. 

Besides being large and unwielding, I also had to pee.  All the time. 

About now you’re thinking, “What in heavens name is she talking about?”  Wait for it.
Chaz, the boys and I spent the day downtown at the Field Museum.  The line in the ladies’ room bathroom snaked around a corner and out the door. Behind me was a VERY pregnant woman. 
For the record, I’m one of those people that NEVER assumes someone is pregnant. The baby would need to be crowning before I’d ask, “When are you due?”  Just because I don’t ask, doesn’t mean I don’t notice. Her stomach was a perfect basketball on her petite frame.
“Go ahead.” I stepped back and motioned towards the opening stall door.
“Oh,” she said surprised, “thanks.” Then quickly rushed in.

I remember, sister.  No thanks necessary.   

Thankful Giving

Day 54
It’s Thanksgiving morning and my mom is up early making green bean casserole for a community meal that will serve 200. Open can.  Pour.  Stir. She’s cooking with gas.  Then she runs out of green beans. The two of us head to the store to pick up more.
A collection bin at the checkout counter asks for cash donations for local families. I know you’ve seen them. These collection jars are everywhere this time of year. I dig in my purse and drop in some bills. 
How is it that people are more willing to donate around the holidays than during other times of the year?  Hardships don’t limit themselves to one season.  

The day before, driving north in Indiana, it was impossible not to notice the large communities of ramshackle trailers that hug I-65.  In Chicago, I’m aware of how many of my family’s friends are out of work. For sale signs are everywhere. According to my dad, many are in foreclosure. 

For as much as my husband and I might complain, we know there are many less fortunate than us.  (And believe me, we KNOW how fortunate we are.)  Today, I am thankful for the health and happiness of my family and thankful to have enough to drop a few bills into a jar and not even miss them.   

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Kindness Takes A Toll

Day 53

“The car behind you?” The man asks.  He raises his eyebrows and speaks with an edge of sarcasm. 

Looking in my rear view mirror I see nothing but open road.  “Well, you know,” I fumble, “the next car that drives up.”

I pull away from the tollbooth and turn to my husband, “So, he’s pocketing that money, right?”


On our drive to Chicago for the Thanksgiving holiday, we decide to pay for the person behind us at every tollbooth we pass.  I can’t call our first attempt a success.  Thank heaven for Chicago toll roads, right?  We’ll get plenty of chances.

We’re closer to the city now and the traffic is heavy.  “I’m feeling better about this one.”  My husband is enjoying himself, too.  “I had no idea this would be so fun!”  It’s almost comical how excited we are.  Some one zooms past us and cuts us off in his rush to be first in line.  “Should’a waited!” we laugh.        

We pull into the toll lane and hand the toll worker the money and a small white card with the blog address on it.  “Just hand them the card when they try to pay,” I explain. 

We move forward and watch the exchange.  The driver attempts to hand the worker the money.  The worker shakes his head and hands him the card.  It worked! 

“Hit the gas, Mom!”  That’s F. from the back seat.  He’s been sleeping for most of northern Indiana.  We told the kids we want be far enough ahead so that the car can’t us.  They’ll just have to wonder, who was that random car?  I hit it. 

Still on the Skyway, we pull into another tollbooth.  The kids crane their necks to see who’s behind us.  Money.  Card.  Gas.  And, we’re off. 

The late model Monte Carlo chases us for nearly a mile before pulling past on the driver’s side.  He’s wildly waving the card and smiling.  Success!  The kids go crazy and want to know how far to the next tollbooth.  

My husband’s right.  This is fun. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Perfect Party Planner

Day 52
My friend Christy is my first grader’s primary room parent.  She does an amazing job. She spends more time and energy planning a class party than I did planning my wedding. 

Today the kids enjoyed a full Thanksgiving feast complete with turkey, cranberries, stuffing, beans, corn, muffins and pie.  Dressed in fringed pillowcases and feathered headdresses, twenty little Indians gobbled it up.     

Since I’ve recently been called out on not reading her class emails, I wanted to make a special effort to thank her for all she does to make the school year special. 

For all you regular readers, this should be an easy one.  What do I love to give more than anything?  CAKE!

So a little sugar for someone who works hard to make first grade sweet, thanks.   

Monday, November 21, 2011

Long Underwear and Star Wars

Day 51
Every year, the boys each shop for a holiday present for a boy their own age that they don’t know.  It’s part of the “angel tree” program at church. 

Over a hundred paper angel ornaments hang from the fake evergreen branches of a Christmas tree.  Each contains a child’s age, sex and simple gift request.  I know I’m not the only one who notices how many kids ask for the basics.  It seems fundamentally wrong that a six-year-old’s Christmas wish list should consist solely of long underwear and a coat. 

That’s why we like to mix it up. 

Down the toy aisle at Target, we find the Star Wars action figures.  Our shopping choices reflect my kids’ current obsessions.  Who better to shop for a 9-year-old boy than a 9-year-old boy?  

“Which two would you want to get most?” I ask. 

I want the boys to feel something.  I want them to be appreciative of what they have but also to be generous in their giving towards a stranger.  

I. examines each figure carefully.  Yoda.  Darth Vader.  Darth Maul.  “They’re all good,” he pauses.  “But I’d want these.”  He places Captain Rex and some battle droids in the cart.  Star Wars seems a perfect companion to the long underwear since I think Luke Skywalker looks like he’s wearing a pair himself.  

Can't Give It Away

“That’s funny,” my husband says.  This is after I tell him what happened Saturday when I attempted to commit a random act of kindness. 

“I know!  I couldn’t give it away!”

That’s sounds bad.  I should explain.

Two friends and I run to Starbucks for a quick cup of coffee after dropping our boys at basketball practice.  The day’s special features buy one get one on holiday lattes.  The two of them buddy-up.  I order and turn to offer the free latte to the man behind me. 

Engrossed in his phone, he doesn’t notice me talking to him.  So I tap him gently on the arm. 

“Do you like Gingerbread lattes?”  He looks up surprised.  Oh, he’s much younger than I realized.  I know that look.  His face reads like a kindle, it says, “Oh, this nice old lady is trying to talk to me.” 

I barrel through.  “I’m going to get one.  Do you want my free one?” 

He smiles in an aren’t-you-cute-now-stop-talking-to-me kind of way.  He shakes his head and begins texting.  [OMG Lady at SBX nuts]  Oddly, this doesn’t deter me.  I call out to the woman behind him.   

Oh!  I know her!  Gingerbread latte?  They also have something mocha?  No, she’s ordering hot chocolate. 

I turn to the barista.  “Can you give my other latte to the next person who orders one?” 

She says she can’t do that.  This makes no sense to me at all but I don’t push. 

I don’t want to hold up the line any longer.  Random Act of Kindness.  Denied. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It counts.

Day 50
“Come outside and look at what your boys are doing,” says my husband. 

I don’t have high expectations.  They’ve been sent to rake leaves for fighting with each other in the basement. 

I look around the yard and don’t find them.  My husband points across the street.  It takes me a minute to process what I’m seeing. 

All three of the boys are gathering leaves with Mrs. Jacks and from the looks of it making a serious dent in cleaning up her yard. 

Knowing my question before I ask, Chaz answers, “I don’t know if it counts if I sent them over to do it.” 

“Hey, mom!” F. waves and grins from her yard.  All of them happily dance around Mrs. Jacks. None of them seem worse for my husband’s directive.  In fact, they look like they’re having a pretty good time.  A much better time than if it were our leaves they were raking.    

“We did our random act of kindness!” I. tells me when I call them inside for lunch. 

“I saw you.  How did it feel?” 

“Pretty great!’    

Yes.  It counts.  


Day 49
I messed up.

I’d misread my friend’s email and got our meeting time completely mixed up.  She showed up at my house to carpool down to the FreeStore at exactly the time I was 30 minutes away Christmas shopping with another friend. 

She was gracious and understanding about my brain snafu.  She even picked up the food that the boys and I collected and dropped it for us.    

I am looking for redemption.  If you cause an inconvenience to someone it only seems right to make someone else’s life more convenient.  Let’s call it balancing out the universe.   

My oldest plays basketball.  His team practices on Saturday afternoons until the season starts in December.  A friend’s son plays on the same team but he misses Saturday practices since it’s during his baby sister’s naptime. 

I text her.  “Does James want to go to practice?  I can swing by and pick him up.” 

She responds immediately.  “Great!” 

As a mom of three boys, I’m a huge proponent of team sports.  Team sports teach boys to work together for a common goal.  They learn that losing gracefully is equally as important as winning.  Sports help develop coordination and bolster self-confidence. Plus, boys need to run around and work off some of that energy.

My friend’s son is absolutely no trouble and I am happy that he didn’t miss out on practice time.  The boys scrimmage another team and are soundly stomped. 

My son enjoys an after-game play-by-play.  “Where was my best play?” he asks seriously.  I tell him he did a great job dribbling and passing. 

“But do you think I can do better?”  This is a tough question.  I don’t know enough about basketball to give any honest tips and I don’t want to discourage.  I also don’t think this question only refers to basketball.  

I think of my friend and my screw-up this morning, the first on a list for the day. 

“Honey, we can all do better.”  

Friday, November 18, 2011

Super Hero Powers

Day 48
F. checked out (for the third time) a book titled My Mom is Trying to Ruin My Life.  I’m beginning to get a complex.  When I joked if he was trying to tell me something he shrugged in reply.  Then smiled.  He’s got the comedic timing of a seasoned stand-up. 

F. is too cool for school.  He doesn’t want me to acknowledge him in front of his friends.  If I could wait on the curb with the engine running, that would be just fine with him. 

“Ruining his life!” I grouse to my husband.  As if. 

Luckily my kindergartener A. still thinks I have super hero powers.  (That’s a story for another day.) 

Today, while volunteering at the school, A. ran up to me and threw his arms around my legs in an embrace when I walked into his classroom.  It was a greeting worthy of a veteran returning home after a two-year overseas tour.  Ah, it’s nice to be wanted.  

Other kids get equally excited to see moms not their own.

“Can I be next?”  Kids are lining up to practice counting coins with me.   

“Absolutely,” I pat the child-sized chair for her to sit down.   

She breaks into a smile and happily scouts her chair closer to mine.  I have witnessed this same sweet girl running and screaming from her mother as if the woman was carrying fire.      

Dude, Where's the Food?

Day 47
The families at Montgomery Elementary are a kind and charitable bunch.

Hundreds of meals will be provided through the generous donations from this year’s annual Thanksgiving food drive. 

The school secretaries call down each grade to the cafeteria.  The kids walk the maze of tables and sort their cans placing items next to their designated sign.  Pasta.  Tuna.  Bread.  Fruit.  Vegetables. Soup.  All things most families in our school open their pantry to find everyday. 

“Dude, that is A LOT of food,” says one third grader.  (For those unfamiliar with the 9-year-old vernacular, “dude” interchanges seamlessly with a variety of words and is used as a general expression for shock, surprise, disappointment or excitement.  It covers all the bases.)  

He’s right.  There is A LOT of food. 

Some families give stuffing. Others send in pumpkin and cans of cranberry sauce.  An assortment of canned vegetables, tuna and fruit cover three rows of cafeteria tables.   

A few moms and I are on hand to help package together supplies to prepare a full Thanksgiving meal for seventeen school families.  We load up the boxes with extra servings of macaroni and cheese and other kid staples for those extra meals families will need to prepare over the holiday weekend.  

Leftover food will be picked up on Monday morning by a local service organization who will distribute it to Cincinnati families in need. 

I think of the three boxes of food piled in the back of my MDX ready to be driven down to the FreeStore food bank this weekend and wish the boys and I would have found the time to make another lap of the neighborhood.  People happily donated when we knocked on their door and asked for contributions. 

I have a million reasons why the kids and I didn’t.  Basketball practice.  Piano lessons.  Cub Scouts.  All of them reasonable and completely valid yet it always seems that we find time if we really want to. 

I can guarantee if I had a gift card for a hot stone massage that expired this week I would have found an hour to fit it in.  I don’t like what that says about me. 

Seriously, dude, what does that say about me?! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Share the Wealth

Day 46
“What are you going to do today?”  My husband asks.  I know he’s not talking about errands but instead about my random act of kindness.

“I was thinking about Mrs. Jacks.”

My husband laughs.  “She’s kind of your fall-back, isn’t she?” 

He’s right.  I absolutely adore her.

Eighty-year-old Mrs. Jacks lives across the street.  She was the first to introduce herself and chatted happily to us as movers carried our furniture from the truck into the house.  She recently decided to sell her home and move into a retirement home in Dayton closer to her son. 

When the sign went into her yard, A. asked, “How will we talk to Mrs. Jacks everyday if she doesn’t live right there?”  I explained that we could write her letters and call but he wasn’t satisfied.  

“It’s not the same,” he said.  Such a big thought for a little boy. 

I don’t have time to think about Mrs. Jacks at the moment.  This afternoon, two of my three boys are bringing friends home from school for early release.

I like to have some planned activity for the kids.  Let me put it another way.  With five boys in the house, I better have a plan.  Today we are decorating cake pops for Thanksgiving.  I think of it as their party favor for coming to play. 

Three hours later, all the boys (except mine) are gone.  They’ve explored the creek, battled bad guys, and climbed the tree house.  They played board games, video games and made-up games. 

I don’t know about them but I’m exhausted.

No rest for the weary, I have one more important thing to do.  I package some cake pops and grab my oldest son.  We head over to another neighbor, a good friend that I don’t see as much since she started back to work.

“Mrs. Jacks?” My husband looks over from the couch when we return.   

“No,” I smile.  “I’m spreading it around.”  

Phineas and Ferb

Day 45
Spot and I took advantage of the break in the rain and headed out for a walk.  The whole block felt damp from last night’s heavy storms and I swear that every squirrel that inhabits our street was out dancing around.  Spot nearly pulled my arm out of its socket in his attempts to catch those taunting little rats.

It was after a dead sprint for a squirrel.  I’d pulled up on his leash and rested near a row of bare-branched bushes.  I looked down and felt a little like the cartoon characters Phineas and Ferb who declare at the start of every show, “I know what we’re going to do today.”

Down on my knees, I reached between to pull out the trash wedged between the branches and half-buried under wet leaves.

Once I fished out the first piece of trash, I was on a mission.  I found a discarded campaign flyer half-buried in some leaves, a torn newspaper in the gutter.  A granola bar wrapper skipped across the sidewalk.

I must have looked a sight: A bag of dog poop in one hand and a handful of trash in the other.

Our impromptu trash pick-up made me remember the “Don’t Be a Litterbug” ads of the 1970’s.  Back then it wasn’t uncommon to see someone drive down the interstate, roll down his window and toss trash out his window.

Thankfully, that’s changed.

Most in our neighborhood are very conscientious.  I’ve never seen anyone intentionally litter.  Still, on Mondays after Rumpke comes through our neighborhood, I often see stray pieces of trash blowing down the street.  Escapees.  Think of all the pickings then!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sometimes You Just Need a Sign

Day 44
Some days I struggle to find some random act of kindness to perform.

Then you get a sign. 

I mean literally a sign. 

I noticed it this morning but drove by in my rush to make my 9:15 spin class.  When I headed back home I saw it again.  Strong winds had blown a neighbor’s for sale sign over.  Not many people in the market for a four-bedroom would see it lying face down in the grass.

I pulled over and jumped out.  It took seconds to right the sign.

If only it were that easy to get someone with young boys to buy that house.  

Angel Disguised as Devil

Day 43
Once a month the kids participate in a service project at church.  Designed for kids aged kindergarten through sixth grade, the projects range from making blankets for kids at Children’s Hospital to filling plastic eggs with candy for the annual community egg hunt. 

Usually I drop the boys (my husband and I refer to this maneuver as “drop and dash”) and do errands kid-free for two hours.  Today I stayed to help. 

Kids moved between three stations.  At one the kids assembled trail mix bags for fire fighters.  At another the kids decorated paper placemats for the local nursing home to be used for their Thanksgiving dinner.  The last one made angels.  That’s where I was.

My own angel A. left his wings at home as he immediately started acting up. 

“I’m going to eat one of these lollipops!”  To put this comment into context, we were making angels using a lollipop, a napkin, a piece of tinfoil and a pipe cleaner.  (I don’t think Martha Stewart will be replicating these for her holiday tree.)    

A little girl (I’ll call her the enforcer) immediately reprimanded him.  “Those lollipops are NOT for us.  They are for making angels.  Do not eat them.” 

“I think I’ll eat two!” he happily replied.  If given an opportunity, he’ll push your buttons until they bust.

“That is very, very bad.” She turned to her friend.  “The lollipops are NOT to eat!” 

I gave A. the stink eye and assured the girl that he would certainly not be eating the lollipops.

I attempted to redirect.  “Don’t forget to draw a face on your angel!” I turned my example to show them my smiling napkin covered lollipop.

“Mom?  How do I make it frown?” 

With this, the enforcer lost all patience with A.’s antics.  “Frowns?  Frowns make people sad.  This is supposed to make people happy.  They have to have a smile.”  The little girl continued to get more and more worked up over the crime of adding a frown to the angel’s face. 

I look at A. to give him another warning.  He wore the biggest smile of the bunch and looked pretty darn happy.     

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mistaken Identity

Day 42
It started seven years ago with a case of mistaken identity.

I’d sent a holiday card to some school friends who’d relocated to New York using an address I’d found on the Internet.  As in past years, the card included a newsy letter about the happenings of our family with updated photos of the boys.

The following year I sent another.  Then I received his letter. 

“Please don’t take me off your list…” a man who shared our school friend’s name wrote.  Intrigued, I read on. 

He’d worked for decades for the New York Mass Transit Authority as a train engineer before his recent retirement.  “I always loved trains,” he confessed.  He’d even included a hand-drawn map of the intricate workings of the railroad that snakes its way around and under New York and the boroughs. 

“He drove a train!” I remember the reaction when I told the boys.  I could have told them the man knew how to fly and they would have been less impressed.  We were well into our Thomas the Tank Engine phase.

The man explained that he’d been receiving (and enjoying) our holiday card and letter for the past several years.  He’d wanted to write earlier and tell us of the address mix-up but was worried if he did we would remove him from our annual list. 

That was the day Paul Fritz and I officially met. 

“I got myself a pen pal!” I told my husband in explaining the letter. 

“Of course you did,” my husband responded. 

Every holiday I send off Paul Fritz’ card and wait excitedly for his response.  Last year he shared that he also likes to write and is thinking of writing a book about working on the subway. 

“What do you think he looks like?”  I’ve asked my husband.  I don’t know, but have speculated plenty.  I picture him as an older German man in his late 60s with graying temples and a barrel chest.
“A skinny white guy from Dayton,” my husband responded. 

I always think to write Paul Fritz during the year (for some reason I can only refer to him using both his first and last names).  I never find the time.  Today I did.   

Pen to paper, I wrote a letter to my pal.  A newsy note shared the antics of the boys and the fight (and the consequent success) to save our tree house.  I hope he writes back soon.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

Kindness is for Turkeys

Day 41
Kindness is for turkeys. 

Cake pops shaped like turkeys for Thanksgiving that is.  What?  What did you THINK I was talking about? 

The teens at our church host a bake sale in conjunction with the annual craft fair.  Both events will take place tomorrow.  When the email came out asking for donations, it took about 30 seconds to hit the reply button.

Money raised helps fund youth projects and programs. 

I feel very strongly about getting youth involved in community service and community causes.  If we don’t teach children to care for others how can we expect them to grow into kind and thoughtful adults?

I’m not raising three boys.  I’m raising men.  Men who I hope will give generously to their community, lend a hand to help a complete stranger and find ways to make life easier for those less fortunate. 

I stand corrected.  Kindness is definitely not for turkeys.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Night Bandits

Day 40
I’m running out of time.  It’s nearly five o’clock and I haven’t done one random act of kindness.  I spent the morning at the gym, the afternoon at a friend’s house and after-school snuggled on the couch with A. watching SpongeBob.  

I should be starting dinner but instead I. and I are heading out.  It’s a little last minute and we don’t have a clear plan but he’s game.  I love that kid.  He’s always up for anything.   

“An hour,” I tell my husband.  I. and I will walk the block until we find a complete stranger’s house with a yard full of leaves. 

“Go do random things!” I give him an odd look but understand what he means. 

“Roger that.”  And we’re off. 

The sun’s setting quickly and the skies are threatening rain.  I. carries the rake.  I’ve got five yard bags tucked under my arm. 

“How about there?”  I. rakes.  I bag.  Leaves stick to my jacket.  A few stick to my hair. 

I wonder why we didn’t have this brainstorm yesterday when the temperatures hovered at 70 degrees.  Since we didn’t, we rake and bag and sneak looks at the light in the house to see if anyone notices us. 

We line up the full bags along the side of the house and admire our work.    

“I think we should ring the bell and run,” Ian suggests. 

“I worry that it might frighten her to have someone ring her bell at night and run.  Plus, it’s pretty dark.  I don’t think she’ll be able to see her yard.  What do you think?”  I think giving an old lady a heart attack negates any good deed one might do.

“OK.” He’s easily convinced. 

“Just think what a nice surprise it will be when she wakes in the morning.” 

With that, we head home, two raking bandits in the night.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Book Buddy

Day 39
Besides a few tears from A. when I refused to let him pick a pink foam pointer finger over a book, day two at the book fair was thankfully uneventful.

On the far wall across from the cashiers, teachers list books they’d like purchased for their classrooms.  It's something I missed in the chaos of yesterday.    

The book fair presents an opportunity for them to expand their classroom library.  This “wish list” ranges from picture books to chapter books from non-fiction to fiction. I opt to forgo my daily pumpkin spice latte and purchase a book for a kindergarten class. 

Easy.  Day 39.  Done.   

Talking of books, I’m struggling through that brick I’m reading for my neighbor.  Looking at the author’s photo, I imagine him pouring himself into his novel.  At 84, it’s a safe bet that this may be the only book he writes.  I want to give it the respectful attention it deserves.  It’s hard not to be pulled into a story when you feel the writer’s heart in every word.  

Book Fair Bedlam

Day 38
My kids’ school librarian thinks I’m a flake.  In her defense, I’ve given her plenty of reasons.

Take today.  I show up to volunteer at the annual book fair.  After a five-minute tutorial on the cash register, she leaves another mom and I in charge.  Oh, help.

“Do you know how this thing works?” I ask as I turn to the other mom.   

She shrugs.  “I thought you did.” 

Luckily the seven-year-olds who shop first understand as we make slow if not steady progress through the checkout line.  They happily flip through their new books and seem surprised when we call them to come up to pay. 

“Look at us!”  I grin.  The other mom smiles too.  We are feeling confident for the next class to arrive.

We should have waited before congratulating ourselves.  Fourth graders don’t have the same tolerance for adults as first graders do.  Just saying. 

Unlike the younger kids who grab the closest book they saw, the older ones carefully peruse the shelves until the last minute.  The rush of kids at the end of the time period fluster my new comrade-in-arms and I as we frantically try to check all the kids out. 

It’s then that a friend comes up to the checkout desk and asks how much money she should send in with her kindergartener tomorrow to buy books.  I turn to answer. 

“No talking!”  The librarian claps her hands and in a firm, teacher voice tells me to stop talking and start ringing.  Did she just scold me?  Yes.  Yes, she did. 

In an attempt to show Mrs. T. that I am a qualified and efficient volunteer, I grab the next child’s book and start checking him out.  I’m so focused the announcement over the school-wide intercom doesn’t initially register.  

“The owner of the white MDX parked in the bus lane needs to move it.  Now, please.”  One guess who owns a white MDX. 

The boy I’m checking out is six dollars short.  He’s slowly pulling items from his bag one at a time to return.   

“How about this?”  He hands me a bookmark. 

“Now you’re $5.50 short.”  Oh, this could take a while.  The announcement comes again. 

I grab my bag and tear out with no more explanation than, “Sorry.  Sorry.  Sorry.  That’s MY car!”

It’s only when I get home that I realize I left my wallet on the librarian’s desk. 


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Extreme Couponing or Food Drive?

Day 37
“What are you going to say?” I’m prepping the boys before we start canvassing the neighborhood to collect canned food for our own personal food drive. 

“We need food!” A. answers. 

“Maybe we should tell them we’re collecting for the FreeStore Food Bank.”  I don’t want our neighbors to think this is my own personal extreme couponing. 

A. and F. are eager to be off.  We have a new wagon (thanks, Lucy!) itching to be filled and we are the family to fill it!

According to this week’s Enquirer article, area food banks are in dire need of wagon and wagon loads of donations.  More than 1 in 5 children in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky are at risk of missing their next meal.

It’s hard for my kids (or me) to fully grasp this when we live in a community where few go without anything. 

For our city’s children, that’s not the norm.  Cincinnati holds the unenviable distinction of ranking third in childhood poverty, behind Detroit and Cleveland.  City officials estimate 48 percent of Cincinnati children are growing up in poverty. 

The boys fight for the first block over who gets to pull that new wagon.  This isn’t going exactly how I’d thought it would in my head. 

“Boys!  Focus!  Food!” For some reason I’m now only talking in one word commands. 

“Get! Food! There!” I point to a neighbor’s house and A. runs up to the door and rings the bell.  I swear that kid is going to grow-up to be a salesman.  He refuses to take no for an answer.  It helps that he’s so darn cute. 

“We need food for the food bank!” No please, but we’ll work on it for the next house. 

The door closes and A. turns around and gives me a thumbs-up.  “This means they’re getting food!” He yells loud enough for the people inside to hear him. 

I return the thumbs up.  “Awesome!” 

F. struggles with the wagon.  It’s now more than half full with a variety of canned peas, corn and tuna fish.  It’s another block and another dozen or so cans before we round the corner and head home.  That’s when A. starts to sing. 

“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there!” He hums a few bars and sings again. 
My first thought is too much TV.  As he continues to repeat the phrase down the block, my mind wanders to the question of what makes a good neighbor. 

Across town or across the street, geography shouldn’t define or limit our definition of neighbor.  Or community. 

We help when we can.  Now we just need a catchy song…

I Heard You Loud and Clear

Day 36
Written November 2010
For these last three years, I held firmly to the belief that Ian’s stuttering would one day disappear.  If we found the right therapist.  If he worked hard on his speech tools.  If…  If...  Poof.  It’d be gone.  

This week, he and I attended a two-day workshop for those affected by stuttering.  Graduate students from Bowling Green University teamed up with kids and provided two days of intensive one-on-one and group speech therapy.  Experts answers parents’ questions.   

While the weekend was wonderful, it was equally heartbreaking as I finally came to the realization that there is no “cure” for stuttering.  Not only that, but its intensity increases at different times during your child’s life. 

As I listened to one teen boy (I learned boys are four times more likely to stutter than girls.), I internally cringed as he struggled to be understood.  While I applauded his bravery to participate in a teen panel, I wondered why he’d put himself through such angst. 

He fidgeted in the metal foldout chair as parents asked questions in soft, apologetic tones.  No one wanted to pry, but was it OK to ask anything?

Most questions started the same way.  I hate to ask, but…how has stuttering negatively affected your self-esteem, making friends, your grades?  What types of things are you afraid to try because you fear the risk of stuttering?  Do you talk on the phone?  Ask girls out on dates?

You could literally see the parents’ minds flashing forward to sometime in the future when their now 8-year-old boy sat home alone on a Saturday night, too afraid to ask a girl to the movies. 

“How was your session?” the 20-something clinician from BGU asked me during our lunch break.  I nodded.  I know, not an answer.  Ian piped in, “In our group, we played games.”  I didn’t want to tell him in my group, a roomful of anxious moms and dads, there was a lot of crying.  I told this to the therapist when Ian left to get another piece of pizza. 

“Really?” She seemed surprised. 

“Nobody would choose this for their child,” my voice broke, the rest of my thought played out in my head.  Life is tough enough.  As his mom, I have every right to be angry and upset that he has one more obstacle than all the other kids he knows. 

For the one percent of the population that stutters, this weekend might have been the first time they met anyone else who spoke like them.  It was for my son.  He told me that was his favorite part, to meet people who “talk just like him.” 

Written Today
This year, I came better prepared.  I discreetly passed Kleenex to new parents who attended the parent workshops.  I gave pens to others wanting to take notes on how to best incorporate therapy into everyday life. 

I listened to other parents about their kids’ speech challenges without jumping in with my son’s own.  These parents didn’t want to hear me talk.  They wanted someone to listen.  I understand.  So I did.  

“It’s just I worry he’s not heard,” one mom confided to me at a break. 

It’s a common concern of parents with kids that stutter.  The stutterer’s speech can’t keep up with his friends and often he will acquiesce instead of voicing what he really wants. 

At lunch, the conference allowed kids to come up on stage and tell jokes.  A dark-haired boy walked forward and grasp the mic.  He started to tell a joke but only got the first word out.  The rest and the punch line stuck in his throat.  He sat down deflated. 

He didn’t leave the stage but instead waited until all the other kids finished.  He stood up and walked to the center of the stage. 

“Do you have a joke?” asked the therapist acting as MC. 

He shook his head and leaned forward to whisper in her ear.  She handed him the mic.

Then he started to sing. 

His voice was clear and strong as he sang a pitch-perfect version of The Lazy Song.  I raised my hands and started to wave them back and forth as if at a concert.  A mom next to me joined in. 

I reached for a Kleenex knowing this stutterer had been heard.    

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pay It Forward

Day 35
“And then she gave me a red paper heart,” F. smiles and takes another bite of dinner.  This exchange takes place around the table as we go around and share one thing that happened during the day.
“She gave you the heart for doing something kind?”  I don’t mean for it to come out as a question.  My children can be kind and often are.  It’s just the idea of committing a random act of kindness sounds so wonderfully familiar.  F. nods. 
“So all we have to do is give you a paper heart for you to be nice to one another?” This is my husband.  We exchange a look that asks, “Could it really be this easy?” 
Finny considers this.  “And threaten us with the principal’s office.” 
I knew there had to be a catch. 
Principal’s office aside, I’m beyond thrilled with a new initiative the kids’ school started this week.  Called Pay It Forward, its designed to acknowledge the kind things that people do for others. 
When a person (adult or student) witnesses or is the recipient of someone doing something kind, they are to hand that person a heart. That person will post the heart on the windows overlooking the cafeteria. The person “catching someone being kind” is then to do something kind for someone else. 

“Do you think it’s a coincidence?” I ask my husband.  Teachers at the school know about my blog and a few read it regularly. Is the blog having an effect? 

I’d like to think it is, but ultimately it doesn’t matter.  Kindness is kindness.   

Like a cold in winter, let’s hope it’s contagious.  

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hungry to Help

Day 34
A friend told my husband and I about a need in Cincinnati.  The FreeStore is running out of food.  Just as the name implies, the store provides free items to those who need them.  The items aren’t limited to food. 

As co-chair of the Make A Difference committee at my kids’ elementary school, an organized food drive seemed a no-brainer.  In a flurry of emails, it seemed a done deal. 

Nothing is that easy. 

This afternoon I received an email saying the food drive was off because another food drive was previously planned for the same time. 

“We can’t help more than one group?”  The idea that we would limit the number of people who receive food is deplorable to me. 

“We don’t want to drain all our resources at once.”  This was the official school response. 

That’s not our call to make.  Shouldn’t we give our school community the opportunity to help if they choose? 

So, today, my boys and I are launching our very own food drive.  We’ve placed a box on our porch for collection.  We’ll be going door-to-door asking for donations.

Beans, tuna, rice, pasta, and canned vegetables are desperately needed, but of course, all donations are appreciated.