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Two Decades of Kids and Counting

By Sally Torbey

About this blog: About this blog: I have enjoyed parenting five children in Palo Alto for the past two decades and have opinions about everything to do with parenting kids (and dogs). The goal of my blog is to share the good times and discuss the ...  (More)

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Giving thanks by passing it forward

Uploaded: Nov 24, 2013
During the first few years we had kids, we kept careful track of what favors we owed to other parents. We worried whether we were doing our share, and we kept a running account in our heads as to whom we owed a play date, an empathetic ear, a meal, or a ride, and whether we were volunteering enough at the grade school, nursery school, church and other activities in which the kids participated. I am grateful to two parents who helped me see the situation differently.

When our eldest child was in kindergarten, I was refusing invitations for him for play dates because I didn't feel I could reciprocate. I wasn't confident that I could supervise another five- year- old, whom I didn't know well, in addition to our baby and toddler, nor did I want to wake them to pick up our son after a play date. When I explained to another parent why I wasn't accepting her invitation for our son, she assured me that since her kindergartener was her youngest child, she was happy to have our son over after school and drop him off afterwards, not expecting anything in return. She explained how in the past friends had done her such favors when she had babies and toddlers at home, and now, she was "paying those friends back by passing the favor forward".

In third grade, my son wanted to join cub scouts, but we knew it was an organization that depended on parent volunteers. The group met at a time my husband was not available, and my own plate seemed very full. My son would linger longingly near the table where the scouts met after school. The parent leading the den called me and asked if our son might join. Upon hearing my explanation of why we were reluctant to sign him up, she emphatically stated, "No child should be excluded from scouts because a parent is not participating." I later learned that she had recently remarried, but for many years she had been raising her young kids on her own while working full time. She was happy to extend a pass on participation to us, a kindness she wished she had received from others when her time and energy were stretched. She welcomed our son to the den, understanding that for that year our involvement would be limited.

There have been other times during the last fifteen years that we have leaned on our community: the birth of each of our children, our daughter's hospitalization, and my father's long illness. I wrote a lot of thank you notes so folks would know how much their efforts were appreciated, and while writing I enjoyed remembering the nurturing and kindness we received.

A great part about passing it forward is it gives folks the flexibility to pay it back in ways that honor their life circumstances, strengths and gifts. The kindness can be passed forward within the family towards children, a spouse or a relative, in the local community, the workplace or the wider world. It all counts.

This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for the friends and relatives who support our family. I also give thanks for the friends and family who trust us to support them during their challenging times, allowing us to pass our gratitude forward.
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Posted by Mark, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Nov 24, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Nice posting on trusting society to do the right thing.

Posted by Sophie, a resident of Walter Hays School,
on Nov 24, 2013 at 8:52 pm

We are lucky that when times are tough, there are people who will help us.

Posted by Mother of 4, a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Nov 24, 2013 at 8:58 pm

It works in other ways too. Our elderly parents do not live close to us to be able to keep an eye on and fortunately they have some good neighbors who are able to keep on eye on them or run the occasional errand. We have elderly neighbors here who have no family that are close enough to visit as often as they would like, but we can keep an eye on them.

If as people we do what we can, when we can, with those who need it near us, we are all making the world a better place. Passing it forward is a good name for it, but it is what people have been doing for generations.

Posted by Debbie, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 24, 2013 at 9:14 pm

What a beautiful way to describe a loving community. It is such a good reminder to assume everyone is doing they best they can to contribute. Like Mother of 4, I am grateful for those who extend a hand to our aging family members when we are not able.

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 24, 2013 at 9:43 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear Mother of 4,
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I am reminded of the song, "Welcome to the Circle" by Betsy Rose. "All that you give away will come circling back to you". Thank you for the reminder that these kind acts make a difference. People have been doing it for generations, but sometimes I get too distracted by the daily "to do" list to remember the bigger picture.

Dear Debbie,
Thanks for reading and commenting! With extended families no longer living under the same roof, for the elderly, caring neighbors are key.

Posted by former Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 8:47 am

I love this post. It reminds us of the beauty of both giving and receiving. I remember well when I was ill that people out of the blue brought my family dinners and other comforts, some of them mentioning favors I had done for them years ago that I had forgotten, but they hadn't. It was a big lesson for me in how people can be there for you when you need them, and how that presence can bring you amazing strength and consolation, and also how your own gifts stay with people and later are passed forward. These moments of both giving and receiving manage to stay with us and manifest many and varied positive effects. Thank you Sally for reminding us!

Posted by MemberMomOfThree, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 9:02 am

I agree with your feeling about not wanting to be indebted to others; however, it is an unmistakable fact that we often do need to rely on friends and neighbors for help. I remember when I had young children I was not able to volunteer in school as much as many of the moms with older kids. They would often comment, "your turn will come". Indeed, I remembered that and when my youngest was going through Elementary school I served in many different capacities, including VP of the PTA, room mom, teacher hospitality chair, and more. I did it because I remembered those awesome volunteers from years past who had moved on. The entire school was a better place because of our volunteer support - - we even had a PTA sponsored small group reading program for all grades 1 - 5! Now my kids are in middle and high school so the need isn't there as much but I still enjoy volunteering - - it's my way of passing it forward. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Posted by Mom of 3, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 9:20 am

I completely agree Sally! I have learned the same lesson myself. I think many of us are reluctant to accept help when we need it. It's often easier to give of oneself than accept the help from others. And I have learned from being on both ends of giving and receiving, that there is an art to accepting the generosity of friends as well. I think it's an invaluable lesson for our kids to witness - generosity without expectation. I love that about our community and I love that my kids are seeing that's how a society can behave.

Posted by Kirsten, a resident of Community Center,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 9:29 am


Thank you for helping us reflect on what being grateful means -- both to give and to receive. I especially appreciate how we all have different gifts and can be called upon at different stages to bring them forth for others. You writing is beautiful and touching. With thanks, Kirsten

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 9:55 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear former Paly parent,
Thanks for reading and commenting. Your comment beautifully summarizes how powerful an effect giving and receiving has on our lives.

Dear MemberMomOfThree,
It is wonderful that you have found a place where your gifts and skills are utilized and appreciated. Our community benefits!

Dear Mom of 3,
Accepting help is definitely a life skill most of us need to work on. I remember my daughter asking, "Why is everyone being so nice to us?" It was wonderful to be able to answer the simple truth, "People want to help!"

Thank you, Kirsten, for being there for me!

Posted by Maria, a resident of University South,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 10:47 am

Thank you Sally!

Posted by LJ, a resident of another community,
on Nov 26, 2013 at 8:11 am

Beautiful piece, Sally!

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 26, 2013 at 9:16 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks, Maria and LJ, for reading and commenting!

Posted by A mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Dec 1, 2013 at 9:57 pm

Thank you Sally. I'm on the receiving end of incredible kindness and generosity by our community right now, and I will enjoy passing it forward when I can.

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 3, 2013 at 10:19 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear A mom,
You already pass it forward everyday with your warmth and humor!

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