Traditions of Service and Giving for Children

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Operation Turkey

On Thanksgiving morning, my daughters and I will be volunteering at Operation Turkey, an effort that provides the homeless of Austin and other cities with a hot Thanksgiving meal. While this will be 7-year-old M and J’s first year participating, I went last year and had a great time. Will you be there? Come and say hello!

turkey1This group has their process down. Around 8:00 am, they take hundreds of milling participants and I-have-no-idea-how-many pounds of food and funnel the people into different tasks. Last year, by noon, 5000 people had been fed and I was headed home to prepare my own meal.

turkey2I wasn’t sure how kid-friendly Operation Turkey would be, so I decided to check it out last year while my girls were at Daddy’s place. I was pleasantly surprised. The children are tasked with decorating the Styrofoam boxes with messages and pictures of seasonal cheer. They’re busy, out of the way, and genuinely contributing. Once all the boxes are decorated and things are started to slow down, they’re welcome to rejoin their parents. I can’t wait to see my kids give of their time and creativity on Thursday.

Why Volunteer

Generosity and gratitude are among my core values and I hope to pass them on to my children. Events like Operation Turkey will set my kids up to know that joy that comes from giving and help them see that they’re not alone in wanting to share the privileges that have come to them. As we have discussed many times, we may not be rich as the world sees it, but we have enough for our needs and many of our wants and we are rich in love. Since we have enough for ourselves, we have enough to others too.

What Can Kids Do?

Our community is filled with opportunities for children to volunteer. M’s best friend volunteered at the local food pantry with her mom last weekend, using the Spanish she learns in the dual language program at school to direct Spanish-speaking families to the bags and food that will help ease their burden a little. Last winter, our Girl Scout troop took cookies and Christmas cheer to the residents of a local retirement community. J donated every penny she’d saved up from her allowance to her school’s Coats for Kids drive. I didn’t even know that until she mentioned it in passing.

We’ll probably go to our local Children Giving to Children Parade and donate toys and books to the Austin Blue Santa effort. Live music and floats are plenty of fun without the added warmth of helping out another child, but the donation is what really makes the event for us. The first time my girls donated at the parade, they were 19 months old. They understood that they were helping out a baby who didn’t have toys and they were old enough to feel good about it. The first time we went, they were 7 months old.


The weather won’t be quite so nice this year, but they’ll probably cooperate better for photos.

blueSanta2Do your kids volunteer or donate during the holidays? What opportunities are there for them in your community?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at and Multicultural Mothering.

Holiday Greetings

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I love the holidays.  Holiday music, baking opportunities, community events, Christmas lights–all of it makes me smile. I don’t enjoy shopping during the holidays at all, though. The crowds give me headaches, so I’m usually done procuring gifts well before Thanksgiving.

One of my favourite activities at the end of the year is sending out holiday cards. Since becoming a mother, I haven’t been nearly as good at keeping in touch with friends around the world, and our holiday greetings are an annual opportunity to remind the people we care about that we love them. For nearly six years, I maintained a public blog, but there are plenty of folks for whom the blogosphere is a huge mystery. The act of addressing and stamping envelopes, filling them with our family’s good wishes, is very satisfying. I know that Christmas cards end up being a chore for many people, and I’m very glad that I find the whole experience to be fun!

I usually order photo cards with a photo from the year. When my husband is home for the holidays, I send out a family photo, but more often the picture is of our twin daughters alone. After all, my husband and I look pretty much the same year after year. Getting nice family photos is a challenge all its own, and after the first year, I elected to leave it to the professionals. A couple of years ago, we invested in an amazing photo shoot with the talented Brandi Nellis, but most years, we just hit up the Sears or JC Penney photo studio.

Although our nuclear family celebrates Christmas’s religious significance, we have many relatives who are Muslim, several friends who are Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist, and many more friends and relatives who are altogether secular. I try to pick a winter-themed photo card rather than a Christmas one, and add a handwritten note to recipients who we know will be celebrating Christmas or Eid, if it happens to fall in the winter.

Along with the photo card, I include a family letter, describing the highlights of our year. The majority of the letter usually ends up being about the children’s interests, milestones and accomplishments. This year, I invited our daughters to make their own contributions to the annual letter, and they each drew a picture and wrote a few sentences about the holiday season this year. It was pretty amazing to see them as excited about reaching out through the mail as I am every year.

How do you handle holiday greetings, and do you include your children in your efforts?


Sadia, her husband and their 5-year-old girls, M and J, send their holiday greetings from El Paso, TX, where they have just experienced their first Texas desert snow. Sadia’s husband told her about desert snow during his first tour of duty in Iraq, but it has to be seen to believed.

Ask the Readers: Happy Halloween

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My cousin Cynthia posed a question: What is the real meaning of Halloween?

She lives in Bangladesh, where we don’t celebrate Halloween at all. I was tempted to point her to the old Celtic festivals that seem to have birthed Halloween, but who really thinks about that as they’re handing out candy to miniature goblins and witches?

So, here’s a question for the readers:

What does Halloween mean to you?


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I wasn’t expecting a personal revelation on the Fourth of July.

It was a low-key but lovely day. The rain finally stopped, the sun was shining, the kids played outside. We went to a nice barbeque chez Mommy Esq.. Quiet. Reasonably peaceful. Enjoyable. A very nice summer day.

The 5th of July

So why was I so cranky much of the day and near tears at night?

Life with two toddlers, with our fairly strict adherence to routine and schedule (especially where naps are concerned) can start to feel a little like the movie Groundhog Day. In and out, each day remarkably similar to the day before. There are variations, of course, but a lot of the daily grind and general thought processes are the same. thing. every. day.

On the one hand, this is a good thing. Routine and schedule make for better naps, happier kids, et cetera, et cetera. On the other hand, it can be restrictive. Sometimes it seems my overriding parenting mantra is respect the nap. It pays off, sure, but it also means you won’t see me doing a darn thing in the early afternoon any day of the week. Sometimes this gets me out of doing things I’d rather not do. And sometimes it’s an enabling excuse to do nothing.

Add to that my kids’ age: nearly two. For the last two years, I’ve opted not to do a number of things because the kids are “too young to realize it.” We haven’t made a huge deal out of holidays and other celebrations because, whatever, the kids don’t know the difference. And really, I can only work so much around their nap schedule and I don’t want to keep them up too late past bedtime and when are they going to eat dinner and what about snacks and blah blah blah

The 5th of July

And that is how Fourth of July 2009 became a day of revelation. I was cranky because it didn’t feel remotely like a holiday to me. None of the games, races, parades, bike-decorating, face-painting, or fireworks of my youth. I didn’t look into what kinds of festivities my town might have planned. I certainly didn’t plan on going to a fireworks show (OK, that one I still feel good about… 2-3 hours past the kids’ bedtime and lots of loud noises? No thanks.). We really did nothing particularly out of the ordinary. There was nothing special about the day at all. And it bugged me.

This is compounded, of course, by the fact that we live far away from my home town and the large extended family that I grew up with. We don’t know much about the town we live in, and are not particularly invested in it. It brought on an acute bout of holiday homesickness.

But that aside, it comes down to the fact that I am not doing anything to create holiday traditions and memories for my family. And without the structure of a familiar hometown or lots of family to rely upon, it’s up to me. And I need to stop being lazy about it.

I’m not saying I need to go nuts. I am not going all-out on holiday-themed decor and matching outfits. There are plenty of activities that my kids remain legitimately too young to do. But the whole “they’re too young” thing as an excuse for not celebrating holidays is officially expired. Halloween, look out. We’re coming for you this year.

And lest you think I wallowed in homesick self-pity all weekend, I am proud to say that Sunday provided a much-appreciated antidote to my bemoaned lack of spontaneity.

Drafting Traditions

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We consider ourselves a pretty traditional household, well, you know, but for the fact that we’re a two-mom one.

Traditions are especially accentuated during the holidays. For example, for close to eternity, we (my siblings, parents, and more recently, our significant others) have gathered at my mom’s house for Christmas Eve for a mid-day meal, then a visit to my parents’ best friend’s home for their traditional Christmas Eve Party and Feast, and then off to candlelight service and midnight mass. We finish off the evening by returning home and opening gifts (we draw names and we have a spending limit). Christmas Day is spent lounging around and visiting with family. And Jennifer grew up with a whole different set of traditions.

Now, though, we ALL HAVE KIDS.

Which means that Midnight Mass is sooooo not an option. Except maybe for our nephew who wears his carseat like a glove and is content anywhere so long as he’s in it. We, unfortunately, do not have carseat babies. And Baby Jesus would not be happy, people. That Christmas Eve Feast at my mom’s friend’s home? Smack in the middle of bath/bottle/bedtime.

So as we venture into this period of younging-up traditions, Jennifer and I are considering bigger issues as it relates thereto. Like how we go about creating the excitement of Santa while teaching the wonder and awe of Christ’s birth while curbing their appetite for consumerism while instilling an appreciation for the things we DO have, while planting seeds of giving without the expectation of receiving, while making charitable activities – through time, talents, or treasures – a part of life. For us, the holidays simply magnify these bigger lessons, Ways Of Living we hope to instill in our children.

Ok, yes, they are only 8-months old. Eight months old TODAY! (Waaaahhhhh!), but these are weighty topics that take heart-felt communication, compromise, great consideration and prayer. I just don’t want the kid who is all “What did you bring me?” when guests come over. Okay, yeah, I know that up to a certain age, kids are unaware of a world outside their own selves, but I know you know what I mean.

We all want more for our kids than we had. More opportunity, more freedom, more sense of security, more education. But I want to do that without also creating a sense of entitlement – something I see more and more when observing children and adolescents around me. I mean, I want to have the ABILITY to give them everything, but without ACTUALLY giving them everything. All a tricky balance, as I observe it. Because “stuff” is so integral in the self-confidence building and highly-sensitive ecosystem of youth peer groups. It’s finding that middle between I-Know-You-Feel-Lonely-With-No-Friends-But-Think-How-Happy-That-Family-Is-That-We-Took-Gifts-To – Yes,-The-One-You’ll-Never-See-Again and Yay-That-You-Are-In-The-In-Crowd-But-Not-At-The-Expense-Of-Self-Respect-And-Seeing-Outside-Yourself-Long-Enough-To-Help-Others. But the thing is, some one of you may have “That” kid and you are perfectly thrilled for it, a kid with great enthusiasm for gifts who will carry with them the memories of being showered by family and friends. And when I look at in that light, it is not a bad thing!

And that adds a layer of complication, then, as it relates to creating expectations in growing families: honoring ANOTHER’s values and traditions without compromising our own. (This all sounds a bit more extreme and heavy than it is as it rolls around in my head, but you get the picture.)

So this year, all 5 kids (our two (8 months), my sister’s two girls (21 months and 6 months), and my brothers son (5 months)) are too young to know the difference. It’s been interesting this tender communication dance we’ve done with siblings, as we each convey to the other the answer to “What does so-and-so need/want?” Because for now, the only ones interested in the tangible gift itself is the parents. The kids, no doubt, will be happy with the paper and boxes. And a bottle. This creation of traditions, both within our own families, and as it relates to our family in the bigger extended family, is a work in progress.

How have your traditions changed, if at all, now that you have kids? How have things changed from the infancy stage to toddler stage to tween stage, as it relates to gifting/holidays? How do you handle any differences in gifting values when they exist among the other adult-parents in your extended clans?

Rachel’s personal blog can be found at RaJenCreation.