Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Pay It Forward: Not Just A Holiday Tradition

I've read many posts and blogs of late that mention their random acts of kindness or paying it forward, and I have to say, they are some of my favorite posts!

I love the holidays just as much as everybody else: amazing food and drinks (hey when Laurie is your mom, you are NEVER hungry during the holidays!), giving thoughtful gifts and seeing the reaction of the recipients, and of course spending time with friends and family.  The holiday spirit is infectious, and its hard to not to catch it!

My little family celebrating Christmas with Luke's family.  Don't mind the cell phone picture with two squirming furkids.  Strangely enough, they posed themselves!
With the holiday spirit in mind, over the past few weeks I have been doing a fair amount of traveling (and by that I mean I was home 2 days in the month of December. YIKES!).  By far one of my favorite memories of traveling came from one of my airport excursions.

I was on the jet bridge, standing in the line of passengers boarding a plane (have no clue what city I was in or where I was going to), when I noticed a young mom with with two kids under the age of 2, trying to get her second child out of the double wide stroller, and still managing to wrangle carry-ons for all.  I have to admit: I was impressed! She was trying to tackle it all on her own and was doing a decent job, but I knew that was something I would not have done such a good job managing on my own, so I stepped out of line and asked her what I could do to help.  I was a little shocked when she handed me the toddler, but took the opportunity in stride! I also grabbed one of her carry-ons, while an older gentleman and his wife behind me also stepped out of line.  The mom handed her infant son to the wife, and the older gentleman helped her break down her stroller and took a couple of her carry-ons himself.

The six of us waited patiently at the side of the line, looking like one odd family I suppose, when another gentleman stopped waved his hand as a gesture to board in front of him.  As the six of us boarded the plane, the flight attendant said she didn't think there was room to have all six of us sit together as a family; I explained to her that we did not need 6 seats together, but it would be helpful to have at least the mom have two seats to sit with her kids.  She contacted the flight attendant in the back of the plane, who had a passenger offer to give up his seat for the mom.  Once we got to the back of the plane, we helped stow away the carry-ons and handed the mom her kids to buckle in, then went our separate ways to find any remaining seats on the flight.

I couldn't even tell there were small children on the flight, and when I stayed behind to help the mom on the way out (also with the gentleman and his wife), we saw three other strangers had already stepped up to help her with the de-boarding process.

This may be a really long story, but I think the whole situation personified how a small gesture can have a ripple effect. Despite not remembering what city or airport I was in, I could pick out the gentleman and his wife who stepped out of line to help, as well as the gentleman who let us "cut" in line.  Their small gestures made a difference in this young mom's travel experience.

As for me, I had to smile to myself when I realized I had just approached a complete stranger, struck up a conversation, and offered my help, as this was something we had always gently teased my Dad about.  He could, and often did, talk to any stranger he met (a teenage daughter's nightmare) and was the first to offer help if they needed it.  He enjoyed doing these things under the radar, and never wanted the attention that some crave.

I shared my story of my flight experience not because I want attention for my actions, but because I believe small acts of kindness, also known as Paying It Forward, are not something that should be done just during the holidays.  There are many simple things throughout the year that many of us can do, that regardless how minuscule they may seem, can make a difference in the lives of others.
Some random ideas:

  • Shovel a neighbors sidewalk.  Your neighbor and those who use the sidewalk will appreciate it (especially the mail person!).
  • Send cards.  I don't know a single person who doesn't enjoy getting a piece of fun mail mixed in with their bills.  It doesn't need to be anything fancy, just a quick note celebrating a milestone or just because. I generally enjoy the "just because" cards even more because they are unexpected and thus, a great surprise!
  • Let the person behind you in line with the full cart and four small children 2 hours past their naptime and 30 minutes past their snacktime go before you.  No explanation needed. 
  • Hold the door open for the person behind you.  And if somebody holds the door open for you - say Thanks!
  • Give a gift card. This was one of my favorite things to do in the past year.  Regardless of the amount you put on the gift card  the person you hand it to will be genuinely shocked and elated.  I debated actually doing this after hearing about people putting significant quantities of money on gift cards, but knew I couldn't afford the significant quantities myself, so I decided on what worked for me and my budget: $5 or less.  The best reaction yet?  A young mom at Target with two screaming kids in her cart = priceless!  
  • Take the stray cart back to the return or store.  Strangers cars thank you in advance.
  • Donate your unwanted things to charity.  As mentioned in yesterdays post, we love donating to ACS Discovery Shops, but we have spread the love to include Habitat for Humanity Restore, Ronald McDonald House, Hope Lodge, Rossi House, the local battered women's shelter, Salvation Army, and Goodwill Industries.   Other ideas? The local Humane Society, homeless shelters, and local elementary/junior/senior high schools. Bonus: Tax deduction for you. Win-win!
  • Make baked goods for the local hospice house or other charity.  Everyday when we were at the Hospice House there were fresh baked cookies in the cafe donated from a volunteer.  A small gesture that allowed us some time out of the room to recharge.  
  • Share your talents.  This is extremely vague, but everyone has something they are good at!  In my family, we all have our own niches and it's not unusual to find us volunteering our time at somebody's house.  For example, my mom is good at painting, so she has helped to paint my sister's condo, my Aunt's countertops (yup I said painted - she's fancy), and numerous friends' houses! We have been fortunate enough to have family and friends who have selflessly offered to help my family with things around my mom's house that we (my mom, sister and I) are not comfortable doing on our own, and to say we are extremely thankful for their help is an understatement!
  • Knit a hat or blanket for a baby at the hospital or an expecting mom.  Doesn't even have to be perfect!  As somebody who has spent time in the delivery rooms: gender neutrals are much appreciated in baby hats!
  • Offer an hour of handyman services. Prerequisite: must be handy!
  • Make dinner for somebody else's family.  Doesn't have to be fancy - it's the thought not the extravagance!
  • Offer to babysit for free so the parents can have a much needed date night.  Date nights are already expensive, so knowing your kids are in good hands (and it's not factoring into the budget) is a relief to many parents.
  • Join a local organization and give your time. There are always community organizations looking for volunteers. Ask around.  Check with your kid's schools.  Find an organization whose mission statement you love and make a difference.  I joined Make A Wish almost three years ago and I think I have gotten so much more out of the organization than I could ever give.  (If you do join, be a Wish Granter - best experience ever!)

Needless to say, Paying It Forward is not limited to the holiday season, and I would love to hear your stories!  Do something this week and leave a comment below!

Holy long somewhat sappy post. I promise to have more pictures in the future. Lo siento (translation: I'm sorry!).

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