See Mom Run: How a Disaster Became a Teachable Moment for Our Kids

If one good thing came out of Hurricane Sandy, it's that Robin's daughter, Olivia, learned how to help people in need.

Anyone else watch the Superstorm Sandy Fundraiser that aired two Friday nights ago on NBC? You know, the one where a bunch of rock stars (and Jimmy Fallon) managed to butcher the timeless classic “Under The Boardwalk,” and we were all left wondering, “What are those caterpillars on either side of Joe Perry’s upper lip?” Not quite ’stache, not quite Fu Manchu, but 100 percent bizarre and hideous. For the love of God, Joe, please tend to that immediately. Signed, someone who is not at all an Aerosmith fan and therefore rarely glimpses your mug but is disturbed to her very core when she does.

Anyhoo, Eric and I let the kids stay up to watch with us because God forbid they miss an opportunity to see Bruce Springsteen perform. (Yes, my five- and three-year-olds are, like their father, obsessed with The Boss. How they managed to side with him over me and the Bee Gees I will never know, but I will say that I far prefer long car trips with Bruce on shuffle to Elmo and The Fresh Beat Band.) We were all good with the Christina Aguilera opener (save for her beyond-weird choice of outfit and unnecessary and mind-numbing vocal runs. Just sing the f-ing song!), some Brian Williams, Jimmy Fallon, and Jon Stewart love, etc., etc. But then came the montages. I hadn’t even thought about this when we said that the kids could watch with us. All they knew about the storm up until that point was that we all had a basement sleepover party one night and school was closed for two days. How were we going to explain what they were seeing and keep them from freaking out? We decided to take cues from them, which went something like this:

Eli (age three): Why are people’s houses broken?
Us: The storm brought a lot of wind and rain with it and some houses were badly damaged.
Eli: Why didn’t our house break?
Us: We were very, very lucky. We are all safe and everyone that we love is safe, which is the most important thing.
Eli: Why is she so sad?
Us: That’s not a “she.” That’s Steven Tyler.

As Eli did not stop speaking for the entirety of the telecast, this same series of questions was asked over and over and over again. Surprisingly Livvy, who is usually more verbose than her chatty brother, was silent through most of the show. At some point during one of the montages I happened to look over at her and she had tears in her eyes.

Me: What’s wrong, Liv?
Liv (age five): I’m sad.
Me: Why are you sad, Liv? Because people lost their houses?
Liv: I don’t know, I’m just really sad.
Me: {Snuggle}

This was a pivotal parenting moment for me. What to do? Do I hope Mommy’s snuggle will take care of everything and leave it to my super-sensitive five-year-old to process what she just saw and the terror that undoubtedly came along with it? Or do I step up to the plate and help her work through this?

After the show was over, we went up to her room and sat on her bed. I snuggled her up tight and asked her how she felt about what she just saw. The tears started flowing freely then and she said, again, that she was sad, as she probably didn’t understand why she was feeling so overwhelmed. So I told her about the storm, and that many people had lost their homes and their possessions and that it was okay to feel sad for them. That some people were without power—including both sets of grandparents—and might be for quite a while. That the most important thing is that we are safe, that SHE is safe, and that we will always do everything in our power to keep her safe. I then asked if she would feel better if she could do something to help the people who lost their homes in some way. A huge smile spread across her face and I told her that Daddy and I would talk and figure out something that she could do.

In Judaism there is something called tzedakah. The word actually means righteousness, justice, or fairness, but more commonly, it is thought of as giving to those less fortunate. In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the less fortunate their due. To those ends, Livvy has a tzedakah box in her room in which she puts the random coins that people give her or that she happens upon. When she woke up the next morning I asked her if she wanted to tally up the contents of her tzedakah box and send it to the Red Cross, an organization that helps when things like this happen. And just like that, she was a child on a mission! Not only did she empty out her tzedakah box, but also her piggy bank. She gathered up all of her coins, put them into a baggie and then looked up at me and said, “Mommy, helping people is the best!” Cue tears of pride and awe that I brought this small person into the world and that, at five years old, she has the capacity for such empathy. She must get it from her old man.

We brought her bounty over to a CoinStar machine, dumped it in, and were able to donate her money—all $18.02 of it—directly to the Red Cross. This one act of kindness spurred us into further action when we donated most of our Halloween candy to an organization that sends it to troops overseas. This was partially selfish, in that I definitely don’t need that stuff staring me in the face, but the sentiment was about 93 percent altruistic.

And so, in the hopes of raising thoughtful, charitable, worldly little people, I think we earned ourselves an A in this instance. In the hopes of raising observant people who can tell the different between men and women, maybe not so much. But come ON! It was Steven Tyler!

>> Tell us: How do you turn every day moments into teachable ones for your kids? Share your advice in the comments.


Robin Raskin lives with her family in Bucks County. She blogs Thursdays on Be Well Philly. Catch up with the series here.

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