Ten months ago, my eleven year old daughter took on a year-long commitment to service. Beyond that, though, she took on a year-long commitment to blogging in support of that work, and this meant that her dad and I took on year-long commitment to incredible uncertainty.
Eleven year olds tend to lose interest in things after a certain period of time. In our household this period of time typically translates into three weeks, max. So, when Laura and I sat down together last January to identify worthy causes for her work and she spent two days of her winter break slowly editing her blogroll and building new pages, I was wondering how long she would be able to sustain the energy that she had for the work that she was about to devote herself to.
“I’m tired,” she groaned this morning, and she had good reason to feel this way. Three weeks ago, she started middle school, and her schedule has been nonstop every since. She has new teachers and a new locker and a pile of new friends. She also caught a bit of that Twilight fever that began sweeping the nation last spring. In short, the kid has acquired a whole world of new priorities this month.
“So………how’s that blog of yours?” I asked her this morning.
“Oh, it’s good!” she grinned.
“And………when did you last post anything there?” I wondered.
“It’s been a while.”
“Are you getting too overwhelmed by the commitments you’ve made there?” I asked her, and she was quick to say no. The kid leaves in fear of being told she cannot blog, and I can understand why. Laura has connected with some pretty incredible people as a result of her efforts there. She’s learned an awful lot as well. But as the mom, my job is to help her maintain her balance, and I would never fault her, at this point, for feeling as though she needed to take a break.
The honeymoon is over. In fact, it’s been over for quite some time now. This has left me with some very mixed feelings in recent months. I told her long ago that I would never put myself in the position of forcing her to “make a difference.” These choices must remain her own. She’s only eleven, after all. Besides, I’m thinking that that sort of approach would only backfire in the end. So, I tiptoe around the issue most of the time. I nudge, but I don’t push, and I’m clear about this: if it becomes too much or her interests call her down a different path at some point, then perhaps it will be time to pull the plug on this particular project.
I don’t see this happening anytime soon, though.
For the record, the most rewarding part of Laura’s work does not happen online. It happens in our kitchen, in places like Compass House, and in our neighborhood. Connecting with people face-to-face and seeing her own little efforts add up and pay off–that’s the greatest incentive for doing the work that she does. Knowing that she can make a contribution is huge. There is nothing like it.
As it turns out, the blog has provided a completely different form of motivation for her. Initially, Laura hoped that her blog would inspire readers to donate to the lesser-known charities and causes that she tends to support. She assumed that if she created these monthly contests, readers would accept her challenge and in the end, she would be able to raise some solid funds for those who need it.
That isn’t what has happened since January, though.
What has happened is that Laura has saved her own change, recycled a bazillion bottles, and researched nonmonetary ways to help. Each month, she knows she has to announce a new charity, make arrangements to do some sort of service work, and keep everyone updated on her progress. At the end of each twenty five day cycle, she knows that she has to hop online and report out on what has been accomplished. Why does she feel that she has to do this?
Because she has readers, that’s why. And over the last year, she has grown to respect her readers very much. She doesn’t want to let them down and more importantly, she doesn’t want to lose touch with them. Very few of them actually donate to her chosen charities, actually. In fact, many of them are children. These are the sorts of cyberfriendships that a mom is happy to support, by the way. More importantly, it’s these relationships that inspire Laura to continue doing small things to help her own community. And this is all a parent (or a teacher incidentally) could ever hope for. It’s also more than we ever expected from her.
So, the journey continues. I don’t know how often she will post, and I’m not really sure what her second annual December challenge might involve just yet, but I do know this: she doesn’t want to stop giving and she doesn’t want to stop blogging and we are loving the fact that instead of simply giving money, people have generously given her their time, their attention, and their support. I’m wondering if she’d still be motivated now, if money had been the only thing she generated this year.