This month when I made my sandwich meal delivery to an elementary-aged tutoring group through Community Cooks, the facilitator receiving the bags from me smiled and then asked,
“No kiddos with you today?”
“No,” I admitted, “they have been protesting going on outings with me,” shaking my head in regret at their choice -- and mine.
“Well, tell them they were missed. It’s always a joy to see them,” she added before we waved goodbye to each other.
How kind of her to remember my children! I suppose we are a bit of a conspicuous cluster of activity anywhere we go -- one mom attempting to hold the peace while four rowdy young children who collectively regress to toddler behavior swarm around her. Anything but meek and mild, my boisterous children are a noisy and colorful bunch.
They are also a bunch who collectively groaned multiple months in a row at the thought of needing to deliver the sandwiches. Their protests had a lot to do with the timing of the work -- we would usually drop off the food after I picked them up from school, and they preferred to head straight home after a full day. Transitions are tough, I understand that. And I’ve already written about how this type of delivery work can feel so unrewarding, but at least I was able to attend the Community Cooks Welcome Dinner this past fall to receive some encouragement. My kids haven’t received that encouragement. None of us have met the kids who receive the food, which would help make it more concrete. However, seeing the kids’ faces could enhance selfish thoughts, as in why are we giving these kids cookies and keeping none for ourselves? Why isn’t everything in the fridge up for grabs? (I have dedicated the bottom drawer of the fridge as my holding zone for any food that will be donated that week to people outside our house -- like classrooms, after school groups, meal train deliveries for new moms. It helps eliminate confusion about what is fair game and keeps unavailable food out of sight.)
Should I force them to deliver the sandwiches with me? I decided a few months ago not to push the issue. But in consolation, I decided I would remind them when I delivered the sandwiches. I would share it as part of my day and in doing so, invite them to share the sense of giving.
This technique can be effective with tithing or any kind of monetary giving as well. Since it’s more and more usual to make monetary donations online and even to set up automatic monthly donations, it is possible for even the one donating to lose track. In these cases as well, it’s helpful to talk about them together, perhaps around the dinner table, to remind each other that yes, we donated to the church this month, that yes, we donated to our sponsored child this month, that yes, we donated to that cause our friend is running the marathon for, that yes, we sent provisions to help that family in need. Perhaps then, even if our kids never see the sandwiches or the dollar bills, they will become aware of our acts of service and accept it as usual culture for our family.
But the other question to ask is, how else could they serve? Perhaps the sandwich delivery isn’t the right kind of service for them. There might be other types of service that resonate more clearly with them.
If you need fresh ideas, check out this Boston Globe article from a few years ago which features 11 ways to volunteer with your kids. In Cambridge, families can participate in the MLK Day of Service on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day each year. A couple of my friends (one Christian, one non-Christian) take their kids to serve at the Harvard Square Churches Meal Program. These are all great hands-on programs where the kids can see the results of their efforts.
In the meantime, while I consider where to encourage my kids to serve next, I reminded them recently that we are surrounded by need and that they can serve daily in small ways -- like by NOT making fun of the school lunch. (Do your kids say, “Ew, gross!” to menu options the way my kids do?) Half of all of their friends are receiving free or reduced price lunch at school (breakfast is now free for all kids in Cambridge) in order to meet their nutritious needs -- and they don't get a choice of what their mom packs them for lunch. I wouldn't want to eat something that my friends said was gross! So I remind my children to remember that, to remember the needs of the kids around them and realize they won't ever know who has choice so to treat them all well.
Sometimes service work can feel burdensome. It requires sacrifice. But perhaps we will gravitate to one form of service over another. There are many options out there. We all do what we can. And we can all do something.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.