Mommy Overboard

As usual I have done it again.

Over the holiday, we signed up as a family to go to the local food pantry and sort cans and stock shelves and organize the donations that the community generously rounds up through food drives and fundraising events.

I’m ashamed to admit this is the first time we have done anything like this. Sheltered in the comfort of our neighborhood we have gone about our days oblivious to the real needs that exist just around the corner.

Determined to give my kids a dose of reality, I take my two daughters and each brings a friend to spend a sunny Saturday morning working together at the local food pantry.

I am hoping to simultaneously do some good and teach my kids to be grateful for all that they have.

Together with about 25 volunteers, we lug boxes filled with canned goods and stack all sorts of beans and soups and fruits for a solid ninety minutes. The work goes fast, spirits are light, the sense of community feels really strong. We see other families from our school and we see strangers, but we all feel like we have important work to do and we are happy to lend the muscle to do it.

As soon as we leave the pantry, one of the youngest announces that she is really, really hungry and wants to go get something to eat.

In typical mommy overboard fashion I have to push the limits of this teachable moment and get on the “be grateful”  soapbox.  To make sure to drive home the importance of taking care of the hungry in our community, I respond immediately with, “YES, go with that. You are hungry. Imagine waking up every day and going to bed every night hungry, just like you are now…really feel that hunger so you know what other people are feeling…”

Oh, yes. That is what I said.

My two girls roll their eyes, used to my dramatics, but their two friends are staring with disbelief – alternating looks of anger at their buddies who have gotten them into this-  and all look at me to see if I am joking.

No, not me.

I can’t simply focus on the good part of volunteering…the part about helping and how good that felt.

Oh, nooo.

Instead of choosing to cement volunteering with the good feelings I choose instead to link it solidly to this life lesson, in a fashion likely to turn them off to doing anything good ever again!

This is what mothers do.

Yup, I link the whole morning with growling stomachs instead of with what we can do to help keep tummies from rumbling.

Do I then reign myself in and find the hard workers a quick snack?  No. I do not even dig for a cough drop from the bottom of my purse. Instead, I proceed to drive a few miles and drop off some of the clothes and toys mine have outgrown at the Salvation Army donation center.

More of that giving spirit and grand effort to get through to my kids.

Somehow I do not notice the sulking while rattling on about helping others and how good it feels.

Overlooking the two younger ones as they grow more pale and sort of glassy eyed I finish off my homegrown social studies unit and make them go in to the animal shelter and register for volunteer hours all the while wondering why they just don’t seem interested in petting the animals or enthusiastic about the opportunity.

I carry on with the “lesson” of how children have empty cupboards and attempt to connect them to the hungry feeling and really push it by making one more stop to get milk and a few things from from the local grocery store.

So lost in my effort to overdo a good thing, I refuse to buy any snacks, not even a donut hole.

While walking up and down the cart filled isles, they tell me how hard it is to look at the food all morning and the food pantry and to carry it around and stock the shelves.

They actually were thinking about food and not having it, for one entire morning.

Oddly enough, as I push my groceries around the salad dressing isle, I bump carts with another parent who was just at the pantry with us.  And across the bread isle, we recognize another person who spent the morning sorting the jars of spaghetti sauce from the jars of peanut butter.  And in the frozen food section another hungry helper fills her cart.

We all wave at each other and though we don’t know each other’s names, we make small talk and our children smile and wave goodbye after the grown ups move to the next item on our lists.

The volunteer families are still putting food on our tables the way we always have, but today, we are changed a little.  We don’t actually need to see the pantry shelves filling the carts of the families who have the empty cupboards. We don’t actually need to go hungry to understand how cupboards  get filled.

As we fill ours, I feel as though we have all gotten the message.

No lecture required. No need to go overboard, moms. We have all grasped the meaning of the morning and feel we are the ones who have been given more than we gave.

The lesson teaches itself.

### by Childgrower A. Woz for EP January 3, 2009.

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