Once upon a moon ago, when my siblings and I were much, much younger, our house burned to the ground. It was on Veteran’s Day and we lost everything. There are many things that I don’t remember about that day, but what I do remember is we were very scared…and very sad.
I was in 4th grade at the time, so my main two concerns were: what happened to our pets, and what happened to all of our stuff.
- In regards to our pets, we were blessed. Upon hearing the news that our house was on fire, the father of my childhood friend, Barbara, ran down the block to our house and broke down the back door to let all of our pets out. In that one selfless act, he gave us so much happiness when so much was lost. Without even meaning to, he became one of our childhood heroes.
- In regards to our toys and our “stuff” – well, we lost all of it. My most vivid memory of the days that followed was watching an insurance adjuster come to the house. I remember him lining up all of our burnt Cabbage Patch Kid dolls on the front stoop to see if anything was salvageable. It was heartbreaking.
- In regards to our clothes, well we lost those too. But as kids, we didn’t really spend a lot of time thinking about whether we’d be naked or not – but I bet our parents did.
Immediately after the fire, our school, our neighbors and our loved ones came to our aid. Their response to our family’s crisis made such a difference for us. Our school immediately set up a clothing drive. They placed huge cardboard boxes in the entry way for people to drop off used clothes, sneakers and coats. Our neighbors came and brought us home-cooked meals for days on end. And our family and loved ones helped us out by cleaning up the mess, babysitting us, and providing lots of emotional support.
The days that followed the fire are a bit blurry now, but at one point, I distinctly remember being embarrassed by the loss of all of our stuff. Prior to the fire, we had a nice home, new clothes when we needed them, and parents with good jobs. So it was very unsettling to be so reliant on others, but it also taught us the importance of being a good and charitable person.
For without the kindness of all of the people that surrounded us during our time of need, we would have been lost. But it was through their charitable deeds, and huge hearts, that we were able to get back on our feet again.
By far, it was one of the most important lessons of our childhood, and one that we try to instill upon our own kids each and every day. However, over the years, my sister and I have learned that the most natural way to raise charitable kids is to be charitable yourself. Your children will learn by simply watching you.
The other night at dinner, I asked my children if they could tell me what they thought “being charitable” meant and this is what they came up with:
Making soup for Pop-Pop* (My 4-year-old daughter’s response)
Who knew that they were watching me so closely? My grandfather recently started home hospice and is on a liquids-only diet. He has always loved my cooking, so I have been making homemade soups for him to add diversity, interest, and nutrients to his limited diet. On Sunday, the kids saw me pouring a batch of homemade chicken soup into the blender and our daughter wanted to know what I was doing. I told her that I was making soup for Pop-Pop, but it had to be nice and smooth for him to eat. I love that she understands that something as easy as bringing a home-cooked meal to another person is one way to be charitable.
Collecting toys and clothes for our Hurricane Sandy family (My 6-year-old son’s response)
Yep, another good one. When Superstorm Sandy hit, my sister and I knew that we wanted to help, but we wanted to help in a way that our kids would understand. So when we came across Moms on a Mission for Hurricane Sandy, we knew that this would be a good fit for our families. We reached out to our Facebook network, and through their generous donations, we were able to collect many basic necessities for this family like gift cards, clothing, shoes, coats, and yes, even toys. I love that my son volunteered to help us and happily parted with some of his trains so that another person could be happy.
As they shared their thoughts with me, my heart got all warm and fuzzy. Our children were learning the meaning of charity by simply watching us take care of others. They weren’t trying to please me by saying “the right thing”. They just said the first thing that came to mind and it made me smile because I knew that they were speaking from their hearts. And now I know that my sister and I are on the right path – and that our children will do their own acts of kindness all by themselves.
Thanks for reading,
*Personal Note: It is with great sadness that I would like to mention that our beloved Pop-Pop passed away shortly after I wrote this post a few meeks ago. He was greatly loved and is now greatly missed, but he is in Heaven now with “Gramma” and our own Father, Denis.