While Your Own Child Naps.
When Opal was a tiny baby, I could justify watching a series of TiVo’d Regis and Kelly episodes, volume low, while nibbling on a plate full of over-buttered blueberry muffins as the wee-one nursed or slept in my lap.
But now that Opal is 10 months old, it seems a little grotesque for a mom to partake in such a lengthy lackadaisical activity while her daughter spends every waking moment examining her environment with the fervor of an archaeologist on the dig of a lifetime. A few moments of watching her sincere and diligent appraisal of the world, her dedication to engaging with every animate or inanimate object whole-heartedly and without discrimination…
The fact is, I’ve been thinking an awful lot about other children lately. Since Opal was born, I feel a sudden and powerful intimacy with other babies and children, a feeling that I didn’t have access to before.
I often think of the children who were perhaps born into a geographic region that isn’t so peaceful, or that lacks adequate nourishment. Children who were born into a family who doesn’t have much in the way of resources, physical or emotional, to offer them. Children who don’t have shoulders to bury their faces in when they are feeling weary. Children who were born with a compromised body. Children who didn’t exactly have a Fortunate Birth this time around.
What can I do to help?
What I discovered, with a little research, is that there are a myriad of amazing resources out there to assist folks to be of service in ways that require minimal exertion and yield maximum benefits for the giver and receiver in kind. There are too many resources, in fact, to list in one palatable blog. So I have decided to report my tip-o’-the-iceberg findings in a handful of installments.
This first, fresh-inked portion lists a manageable trickle of ways for a mama to be helpful to other children in the community, in the world, while her own baby sleeps in the other room.
1. There’s a website called Make A Child Smile that’s designed to provide emotional and financial support to families whose children suffer from chronic or life-threatening illnesses. The website provides the stories and addresses of children who are in need of some extra TLC, so you can send them a gift or card directly. This is indeed the day and age of speed—communication, emails and texting, so the impact of an actual envelope to open, an actual gift to unwrap, is unparalleled.
(Author’s note: One glimpse at Isabella, a three year old with Neuroblastoma on the featured kids page and what I see is my own daughter grinning-cheese back at me, with bright eyes and a soft, naked skull where little-girl pigtails would be. I want to wrap my arms around her, her mother Shannon and her father Jon, but instead we jaunted to a nearby store for a colorful card and a pile of stickers to mail.)
2. Have an artsy vein and like to tinker with a needle and thread? There are two fantastic, well-established sites to help you channel your creative notions into expressions of love.
Project Linus has undertaken the mission to provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need through the gifts of new, handmade blankets and afghans, lovingly created by volunteer “blanketeers.” Project Linus is comprised of hundreds of local chapters and has distributed over three million blankets since their inception in 1995.
Quilts For Kids has also assumed the task of fashioning patchwork quilts that comfort children with life-threatening illnesses and children of abuse, encouraging the use of discontinued, unwanted and other fabrics to do so. “It seems like only yesterday that I discovered a wealth of discontinued fabric samples being thrown away,” said the founder. “I was only looking to save some fabric samples from a landfill.” Talk about a lovely stroke of resourceful ingenuity funneled into compassionate action.
3. The folks at my local Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA) had some specific requests:
Create welcome kits — families living in their shelter units typically move in without a lot of stuff. The EFAA provides welcome kits which include all necessary toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, soap, comb or brush, toothbrush, etc. These kits come from volunteers who have purchased the items or solicited for donations, from their faith community or school group, perhaps. Some families get creative and sew bags to put the toiletries in, others make welcome kits specifically for children.
Create birthday boxes – all children celebrate birthdays but not all families can afford to make it fun. When a child at the EFAA shelter celebrates a birthday, they pull out a Birthday Box. This special box includes everything you need to throw a birthday party—cake mix, frosting, plates, napkins and possibly a few small gifts. They can be as basic or as elaborate as the people who make them want them to be. This opportunity is great for kids to get involved in because they understand that all children want to enjoy and be pampered on their birthday
(If in Boulder County, Colorado, contact [email protected] to determine the best place and time to drop them off.)
4. Plan International is an exceptional children’s developmental organization that works with more than 3,500,000 families and their communities around the world each year and is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations. One of the ways Plan offers to donate is through Gifts Of Hope, which are manageable offerings that provide children with whatever is regionally needed most: vaccinations, food and school supplies, to name just a few. Plan also offers an outstanding sponsor-a-child program, if your checkbook allows. A lovely friend of mine donates to this organization each year in honor of her daughter on her birthday, so that her daughter grows up knowing what it feels like to both give and receive a gift on her special day.
5. Each time you sit down to feed your child, take a moment to practice Tonglen for each and every child who may not have been born into the lap of a loving, providing community, and who may need a little extra help in this lifetime.
If I haven’t already, I intend to personally partake in everything I’ve mentioned here and report back with my findings.
The next installment will contain a compilation of ways to volunteer with Opal at my side. Small missions in the world beyond our front door that can include a tiny person who is eager to be a part of things. Though she cannot yet walk, she surely acquaints herself with the qualities, words, objects and activities that buzz around her precious little fig-eyed face. When and if I can, I try to supplement her surroundings with generosity and compassion to accompany the butterflies and oven-warm zucchini bread.
I’d also love to hear your ideas and experiences of child-friendly volunteer and service possibilities, as readers who favor good deeds of the imaginative variety.