It’s the little things

It doesn’t take much to teach kids how to give back

Riley Hunt, right, with his grandparents. Photo Courtesy Chris Hunt

My son Riley was kneeling in a sea of shredded Christmas paper and discarded ribbons.  In front of him, a small mountain of toys loomed.  Nestled around him was my entire extended family, smirking at him as he gauged his loot haul.

His grandparents were probably smiling the hardest.  There are few things more pleasurable to a grandparent than heaping loads of love upon their grandkids.

His grandmother had a peculiar look in her eyes, as though her thoughts were vividly somewhere else. 

And then she spoke of Christmases when she was a little girl, about how one of the things she looked forward to during the holidays were the stockings, because they often held tangerines, which were happy indulgences of hers.  

At first, I thought she was commenting on how spoiled Riley was that Christmas, but it was more a comment about how she appreciated the simple pleasure of a thoughtful gesture.

His grandfather also recalled how his father would receive presents from the company he worked for and those would be the gifts his children opened on Christmas Day.  One of his favourites was a transistor radio he had to put together himself.  He spent many late nights engrossed in shows on it.  

We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, though I always had food in my belly and clothes on my back.  My parents always made Christmases extra special for us, but there was one year I remember which was pretty lean.

That year, Santa visited my school and gave all the students gifts.  Mine was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. I don’t remember which one, but I do remember I had wanted one forever. 

That gift made my Christmas.  The visit was planned and subsidized by volunteers in the community. They had purchased gifts for dozens of school-aged children and happily sacrificed their time to give for our benefit.

There’s no way for me to say thank you to everyone who has shown me kindness, but I can pay it forward while also fostering a sense of community in my son.

During the holidays, we get Riley to choose gifts he thinks a child his age would like, and then we would purchase it and donate it to the Children’s Aid Society. 

We also ask him to go through his toys on a regular basis to see what he still plays with. We donate outgrown toys to families who will find a happy use of them. 

He’s a voracious reader, and when he’s done with a book or a series, we ask him if he’d like to donate it to the local library where there is a shortage of children’s books.

One Christmas, before COVID struck, my in-laws decided to donate money to a woman’s shelter. Riley’s mother took that opportunity to explain why many women and children need to go there for their safety.  We packed up some toys, baby clothes and the like, and Riley and his mom delivered it to the same shelter.

It’s a hard thing to explain to one so young, but it’s worth it to instill an understanding of how even the smallest gesture can make a huge impact on someone’s life.