Before I became a mom, I worked to eradicate hunger by developing city and county adopted policies with supportive programming focused on the availability of locally grown seasonal produce. One day I would be on a farm, another day meeting with the mayor and elected officials, and the next day adding new merchandising in a grocery store. While working in such a diverse arena, I quickly learned how food acts as a universal language. It was a demanding career that was incredibly humbling. I have always had an appreciation for fruits and veggies, but after working alongside communities of families who didn’t have access or couldn’t afford food, I am now even more thankful for every meal.
On a recent evening out, a very pregnant me enjoyed laughs, conversation and an all you can eat buffet of soup and salad with my husband and our daughter. Throughout our meal, a group of diners at a nearby table repeatedly turned around to look at us but then left around my decision to check-out all things carbs at the pasta and bread stations, so I didn’t think much of it.
We continued to enjoy dinner and just as my husband was discussing his plans for a do-it-yourself dessert concoction, one of the employees approached our table. She handed us a gift card; a generous offering which came from the table of aforementioned diners. Pleasantly befuddled, my husband and I struggled to get out complete sentences as we tried to thank the employee in lieu of our gifters.
Looking up at us with her big green eyes, our toddler asked what was happening and I immediately knew that I wanted to include her in a pay-it-forward gift that she would understand.
While visiting my parents this last summer, we discovered a sweet rock exchange in their neighborhood.
The idea is that you are welcome to keep one of the embellished rocks you find as long as you replace it with another rock that you decorate. It not only makes for a happy and colorful addition to evening walks, but highlights the lessons and process of emotions for a child (or adult) when giving something away that is special to you.
From finger painting to a museum-quality sculpture, art, like food, can be very personal, but it also crosses cultural divides. By gifting something you created, you are also giving a little bit of yourself to the recipient. In this case, our intention was to spread the same happiness and appreciation we felt in the restaurant.
This rock exchange creates a pretty awesome pay-it-forward. It makes the community a little more colorful, spreads a little joy and unintentionally causes us to stop in the midst of our rush and enjoy a little beauty.
It doesn’t matter how you define it: pay-it-forward, “do unto others” or volunteering, it’s all about spreading kindness. Whenever I feel someone has been less than nice to me, it helps to remember that I don’t know what’s going on in their life or how their day is going. Instead of mirroring their energy, I try to share a smile. This isn’t always easy as a sleep deprived mom, but speaking as someone from the receiving end, you may not know how much your gift, big or small, is needed. Here’s to many more pay-it-forwards and a very special thank you to the kind neighbors who gave us the gift card. It was appreciated more than you know.
Want to start your own rock exchange?
- Collect rocks (this is a great opportunity to teach about size and shape)
- Paint rocks (we used acrylic craft paint that we had on-hand)
- Choose an affirmation (I’ve seen a few different options for this, but we chose to write “You rock!” in permanent marker on the back of our rocks)
- Spray the rocks with enamel (This protects the paint from rain washing away your decoration)
- Place finished rocks around neighborhood (I posted about our “You rock!” project in a neighborhood social media app to get the ball – or rock- rolling on neighbor involvement)