Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Charity begins at home

I believe that most parents want to raise their children to be compassionate, altruistic members of society. I also believe that many parents are at a loss as to how to ingrain and impart this attitude, particularly with today's frenetic and harried schedules and pace. We as adults may satisfy our wish to give back by donating money to our favorite nonprofits or boxing up outgrown toys for the local shelter, but young children can't exactly write a check (and often have trouble with the concept of giving away their toys!)

Furthermore, when it comes to the realm of pediatric cancer, I know many parents feel uncomfortable with the idea of exposing their children to the realities of seriously or terminally ill children. I have known people to say "I just don't want to have to explain a child dying" or "it just hits too close to home" and prefer to keep their own healthy children unaware and sheltered from the knowledge that their peers can, and do, become very, very sick little boys and girls.

I understand the ostrich instinct; it is overwhelming and devastating to put faces to the statistics, to care about individual children and grieve when they lose the battle. But for me, I view the fight against pediatric cancer as a golden opportunity to really teach my children what it means to be empathetic. I want them to understand that yes, children get very sick, and yes, children can and do die; I want them to learn, even at a tender age, that we have a responsibility to help those who need it - and that not everyone is as lucky as them to be healthy.

My children have known about pediatric cancer for 3 years now, since I did my first Light The Night walk in 2004 in honor of Allie Scott. They got to know a little boy who was fighting cancer, and knew when he lost his battle. It was a hard discussion to have with my two older boys - that this sweet baby boy who went trick or treating with them on Halloween and came and swam in the pool with them lost the fight, like Grandpa Joe (my Dad) who died of pancreatic cancer. They understand death, as much as any of us do, and I watched their eyes grow wide as they struggled to understand that this young and playful baby that they knew would no longer come over.

But they also met children who were and are beating the disease. While I inwardly cringed when my oldest son asked my colleague and friend's son (age 5), with a serious and concerned tone, if he was "going to die from the cancer", I also knew that this conversation, this openly concerned and interested dialogue, was ultimately a very good thing (and luckily my friend agreed). My children not only know that other children get cancer and sometimes die, they want to help. They want to make a difference.

So it was no surprise to me that, after seeing a lemonade stand by our community pool recently, my oldest son (age 7) came home with the idea to have his own lemonade stand, and the following conversation ensued:

Me: "Hey, maybe we can do a lemonade stand sometime this summer and you can raise money to bring to Dallas for the 5k walk in September."
Son: "That's a good idea"
Me: "Yeah, did you know my friend Miss Jenny's job is to help kids with cancer?"
Son: (his eyes big) "It is?"
Me: "Yup. She owns her very own business, and she raises money and then gives it to families who have kids with cancer"
Son: "Wow. Why does she care that much?"
Me: "well, do you remember Allie? Remember how mommy raised money to help kids with cancer, and there was that baby named Allie who died from cancer?"
Son: "yes! I remember her picture!" (from the team banner/t-shirts)
Me: "that was Miss Jenny's baby"
Son: (thinks for a minute) "Well she must care an awful lot then"
Me: "yes she does"
Son: "well I think we should help Miss Jenny! We need to help kids with cancer too!"

For me, that awareness and compassion that I am hopefully cultivating is worth the loss of their naivete and innocence that children are invincible, and can always be protected.

For more ideas on how to raise charitable children, see this article.

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