the smell of my desperation has become a stench

The beginning of an ironic yet worthwhile tradition


This content was created in partnership with Ford to help make creativity a part of every drive this holiday season.

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It is a little known fact around here that my kids are somewhat picky about food, “somewhat” meaning that they would prefer that food not be required for basic survival. This is a topic about which I do not have to exaggerate as I am wont to do about other things. Their pickiness is exaggeration personified. Leta won’t eat bread or cake. Marlo’s face melts off if a pancake is served with a dollop of whip cream. NOT THE WHITE STUFF NO!

This makes Thanksgiving a little tricky because of the look of disgust on their faces when confronted with traditional dishes. Do not even try to serve them homemade cornbread stuffing or a serving of tender turkey that has been lovingly roasting overnight. Most of my memories of Thanksgiving are consumed with sitting around the table with my family and indulging in those dishes, so I’ve tried to be diligent about making this holiday special, something more than just a normal visit to my mom’s house where she will slip them Diet Coke behind my back.

It’s not easy, especially with the normal craziness that accompanies this time of year—all the running around and loose ends at school and my own deadlines. This year I wanted to start a new tradition with them to add some depth to the meaning of this holiday, something that ties in with what I’ve wanted them to observe from some of the work I’ve been doing, something we could fit into all the usual madness. They can’t necessarily visit a clinic in Haiti, but they can see other types of work in Utah being done to help people with less means than our own.

Leta’s friend Gigi came over for a sleepover on a recent Friday night and the following morning I piled them all into the car to go shopping for food that we could donate to the Utah Food Bank (a trip we’d make on one of those days when Marlo had yet again taken off and misplaced her old glasses). You could make the argument that it’s ironic that I’m starting a tradition around the mission of fighting hunger when both of my kids don’t like to eat. And you’d be right. But I guess I’m taking the old parental refrain of THERE ARE STARVING KIDS IN AFRICA and bringing it closer to home. There are starving kids down the street. And we can help.

I printed out the list of most needed food items and had each of them do all the work. They had to find the items, push the cart, load the cart and then transfer everything to the conveyor belt at checkout. I wanted them to own this themselves. This may not seem like a lot of work, but when your kids are picky like mine, finding anything in a grocery store is like trying to read a map in a foreign language. Almost two hours later we had three heaping sacks of canned fruit, pasta, peanut butter, and chili. What took the longest to find? Canned stew.

“What on earth is stew, Mom?” Leta asked. That’s my kid! Feeding the hungry!

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After loading everything into the back of the car we set out for the food bank which is a bit of a drive from our area of town. Normally we listen to Leta’s favorite radio station, but I turned the stereo off and started a conversation to get them thinking about this season. I wanted this conversation to be a part of the tradition.

“Leta,” I said from the front seat. “What one thing do you want most for Christmas?”

She had no idea where I was going with this and piped up almost before I had finished asking the question.

“Oh! I want these little bunnies that work in these little pet shops, and an Easy Bake Oven, and all the stuff you need to cook with, and a new bike!”

“I said one thing, but that’s okay.” I was worried she had run out of breath.

“One thing? I have to choose just one?”

“Why do you think you deserve any of those things?” I challenged.

I’d caught her off guard, and after a few beats of silence she answered with a question, “Because it’s Christmas?”

I laughed inaudibly under my breath. “No. What have you done to earn those presents?”

“Oh….” she said, and I could hear her thinking from the backseat. “Well, sometimes I watch Marlo so that you can shower…. I make my bed, I do all of my homework, and I try to get good grades.”

“Yes, you do all of those things,” I confirmed. “Is there anything you could work on?”

“Well, I know I complain a lot. I’m always saying that I hate homework and that piano is hard. I could work on my attitude.”

That’s when I decided to clarify what I was doing. “All the food that you guys are going to give to the food bank is going to feed people who might not get anything for Christmas. These people work hard all year, too. They watch their little sisters, they work on homework, they meet deadlines. They work on themselves, too.”

She then stepped right into the spot I had opened up. “But, it seems like if they have earned presents they should get presents.”

“It does seem like that, but that’s not how it works. If they can’t afford a meal they probably can’t even afford a Christmas tree. Do you see how lucky we are?”

“But… Mom, that isn’t fair. What do we do? Everyone has to have a Christmas tree!”

Gigi spoke up out of nowhere, “We bring them presents!”

“That’s a great idea,” I said. “We are just as lucky to have food, to have three meals a day. They don’t have a refrigerator stocked like ours. Do you see why we’re bringing them food?”

“I do,” answered Leta. “But now I want to bring them Christmas trees, too!”

That’s when it hit me. My inspiring, lovely non-eater who wants cooking utensils for Christmas! “You know what? Every year we spend Thanksgiving together we will shop for this food and take it to the food bank. And every year we spend Christmas together we’ll find a place where we can buy trees for people who want one but don’t have one.”

I continued this exercise with Gigi and Marlo, and not surprisingly, Gigi caught on a little more deftly. She said she wanted a whole new snow outfit for Christmas complete with “boots that velcro at the top so that the snow doesn’t get into your socks.” That is SUCH a Utah thing to wish for. The only thing more Utah than that would be to ask for the pattern to a cross stitch. Or a vat of green Jell-O.

Then she explained that she washes the dishes after dinner and sometimes helps her mom with laundry.

“Sometimes I pick up the living room a little bit when it’s so bad that it’s not even pleasant to sit in,” she concluded. “And next year I’m going to do that more. I’m going to make it so that the living room is always pleasant to sit in.”

Pleasant to sit in.

I wonder if Gigi is available for hire. I pay well.

Marlo said she wanted every American Girl Doll accessory ever made, and when I asked her why she deserved any of those things she answered, “Because I really want them.”

“No, why have you earned them?” I pressed.

“Because I think they look pretty cool.”

“Marlo, what have you done this year to EARN a present?”

“Mom,” she answered as if I was not listening to her. “I am amazing. I am an amazing child. Those things are amazing and cool. Christmas is amazing.” I could hear her hand hitting her leg with each “amazing” as if to drive home the point.

Oh, yes indeed, I have my work cut out for me with that one, the wonderful work of shaping and encouraging her generosity. We’ll get there.

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This content was created in partnership with Ford to help make creativity a part of every drive this holiday season.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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