My kids are now eight and six years old, which means they are still plenty self absorbed to believe that they are king and queen of the castle, but old enough at least I think, to start having some construct of a social conscience and a more accurate sense of the world.
I still have them believing in the Tooth Fairy – at least they pretend to so they can get compensated by the cash carrying Angel of Baby Teeth. And even though we don’t celebrate Christmas, my kids seem to still trust that there is a Santa and a gaggle of reindeer who fly on a pimped out sleigh dropping presents down a chimney. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the buzz kill type who exposes Santa as an overweight, over commercialized fraud. But as my children get a little older I’ve become more intent on grounding them and keeping it real.
Ever since my first toddler shrieked “Mine!” followed by, “I want that!” I’ve been desperate to figure out how to raise un-bratty, kind hearted kids with a social conscience. And every time we walk into a Target and my son Jonah wants a new Tech Deck to add to his massive collection and my daughter Lexi wants another Sharpay doll, I announce to my husband that it’s time to take our kids to visit a soup kitchen.
“When are they old enough to ladle?” I’ve asked the Mitzvah team members at my synagogue who help out at local soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Apparently, six and eight years old are too young to volunteer.
Maybe it’s the Obama effect or maybe it’s just a raised national social conscience, but community service and charitable giving has definitely trickled down even into the first grade and I am grateful for the backup. During the next few weeks, kids at our elementary school are encouraged to turn in their gently used coats and write notes to the new owners. The note is supposed to be placed into the coat’s pocket. This year the coat drive has become personal, not just theoretical.
It’s interesting and heartening to see Jonah becoming increasingly curious about the news. He wanted to know what happened in Fort Hood. And he recently talked about 9/11 and the planes that took down the World Trade Center. Jonah speculated that 9/11 could never happen again because “they must be making stronger buildings now.”
I struggle with how to talk to my kids about horrific events like 9/11, the Fort Hood shootings and the bleak, inescapable realities of life. I’ve tried to explain about selfish, greedy people like Bernie Madoff and I’ve talked about parents being out of work and the hardships created by the recession. And I use my children’s books to hammer home important life lessons. Last night we finished reading “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” which is a brilliant example of the hazards that befall overstuffed and overindulged kids.
But in my zeal to instill a conscience am I scaring the bejesus out of my kids and ruining kid-dom? Just how much do we share with our children to make them understand and appreciate what they have while being sensitive to the struggles of others? And for those children who are lucky enough to have a carefree childhood, one filled with ski trips and summer camps, how do we protect that? Or shouldn’t we?
For the first time in years, we have no obligatory family plans this Thanksgiving. If the weather is good, we will go to the Macy’s Day Parade in New York City followed by a much promised trip to the American Doll store and some version of a Thanksgiving meal in the city. But I’m also calling around to New York City homeless shelters to see if anyone needs help handing out turkeys. We’ll see if someplace may be open to letting my kids come and volunteer.