Mitzvahs for Mom

May was always a month that we celebrated my mom. We observed Mother’s Day together and my mom’s birthday fell on the last day of the month, May 31st. After my father died I was aware that the first year of holidays and birthdays are often particularly  difficult.  On Mother’s Day this year, I had an awful cold and was in bed taking care of myself. I hardly cared what my own family did for me because I was feeling so rotten. Honestly, it made the first Mother’s Day without my mom less difficult. As my mom’s birthday approached I started thinking that it would probably be a bittersweet day as well. Then I got an idea. After sharing a post on Facebook about a girl who celebrated her 21st birthday by doing acts of kindness, I wrote ” Who’s got a May birthday?” and then remembered my mom would have had her own birthday in May. So, I decided to coin my own holiday in honor of my mother’s birthday.

david solly and I vegasIronically, my brother David and I were planning on meeting up in Las Vegas, that weekend while my son attended a Magic the Gathering convention so we’d actually be together on Sunday, May 31st. We decided to treat my mom’s birthday as a day to do dozens of mitzvahs. We called them “Mitzvahs for Mom!”

I knew since we’d be in Vegas, staying in a hotel, I had to come up with some prepared ways that we could do mitzvahs rather than letting them be completely random like I did for my 1000 Mitzvah project. Also, I thought it would be fun to come up with things my mom would have loved! I brought some fun things I found at the dollar store, pads of paper and pens – my mom loved giving things to the children especially when she traveled. I also bought some plastic blow up balls for the swimming pool, because one of her favorite hobbies was swimming. Finally, I bought a star-shaped pad of sticky notes to write messages on, my mom’s middle name was Star!

mitzvahs for mom photo

First thing, I surprised the guy behind me at the cafe with a free cup of coffee. At breakfast, we surprised our friend Lisa who ironically shares my mom’s birthday and was in Vegas as well for the convention, with cake and a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday.

We left quarters in every pay phone we passed. Did you know that it now costs $.50 cents to make a phone call? I had no idea.

pay phone

star post itI left several of the sticky note messages on bathroom mirrors in a few different hotel bathrooms as well as on a couple of housekeeping carts. I thanked the workers for their effort to keep everything so clean. Ironically, later in the day when I stopped at a Sephora store to buy something and let the manager know one of her employees had been really helpful she told me they love when people fill out the surveys about customer service because they work for “recognition not commission.”

I left the pads of paper and pens and blow up balls with the housekeeping staff on our floor after one of them told me several of the women had children that would love them.

david water bottlesdavid with homeless man

My brother was excited to join in the fun and came up with the idea to give out ice-cold bottles of water to people on the street since it was 100 degrees all weekend long. This was certainly the most interesting part of the day. We decided to head to old Fremont Street rather than the Las Vegas strip to give out the water bottles because it’s a little less touristy. We opted to give them to the locals including the street vendors, a  costumed Sponge Bob character as well and some of the other homeless folks we passed along the way. Since it was 100 degrees you can imagine people were very happy to get a cold bottle of water. We only had a few bottles left when the security police cycled up to us and told us we’d have to stop because it was too risky to let people do this because who knew what we might have added to those water bottles. I guess it makes sense. My brother really wanted to make sure we gave away the last of the bottles though so the security police told us to walk off Fremont yo give our final few away. Now my brother and I definitely have a fish tale to tell about our day!

Overall, I’d say the day was certainly one where we tried to remember our mom. After my book came out, my mom joked when she died I’d have to do 2000 mitzvahs for her. Though we hardly performed that many mitzvahs it definitely was a great way to think about her and perhaps this will be a new May 31st tradition for my brother and I, though I’d be perfectly fine if we were in Portland and not Vegas next year!


Matt Strong’s Birthday Wish

Last September, I read a story by Margie Boule in the Oregonian about Matt Strong, who for his 25th birthday had requested that his friends not give him presents but instead do acts of kindness and send him an email to let him know about it. He said he didn’t need another DVD or more material items. It had been a tough year for Matt and his mom was touched by his decision to forgo birthday presents. I was too. At the time, I had been working on my mitzvah project for almost two years. But Matt was just 25 years old. His request seemed wise beyond his years.

He had this idea when things had gotten to a low point in his life. He had seen a little old lady on the bus who was struggling with her grocery bag full of cans. When she got off at Matt’s stop he helped her.

He realized that good deeds don’t take that much effort.

Matt began to pay attention and realized that good deeds were easy to do.

In the end he received, many emails from friends he hadn’t heard from in years, classmates and coworkers. The acts of kindness included many that were relationship oriented.

Matt’s birthday request not only inspired his friends and family.  Readers from the paper also copied his idea. On December 16th, Audeen Wagner turned 80. Here’s the note she sent to friends and family.

“Dear friends and relatives,

I will be celebrating my 80th birthday this December. Instead of buying a lovely and expensive gift for me, as I’m sure you were planning to do, please do a good deed, then send me an e-mail telling me what you did. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, just an act of kindness . . . .

“In this world of distressing, depressing news (the war, the economy, politics, Mariners baseball), it is so refreshing to hear about seemingly small and insignificant acts that become a veritable landslide of loving concern for others . . . .

“Love, Audeen/Mom/Grandma.”

Friends and family across Oregon, Washington and California offered dozens of acts of kindness in her honor. People sent flowers, helped the homeless, gave charity, volunteered in toy drives and offered free babysitting. Many of Audeen’s friends were thrilled that her birthday request helped them get into action.

So who has a birthday this week or this summer? Perhaps instead of presents, you’ll follow Matt and Audeen’s lead. You never know who you might inspire or motivate and how beneficial it will be for everyone involved!