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True Gratitude 

click to enlarge Autumn's bounty at Family Cow Farmstand in Hinesburg
  • Autumn's bounty at Family Cow Farmstand in Hinesburg

In September, I took my family to Burlington's Community Sailing Center for a presentation by 24-year-old Dutch sailor Laura Dekker. At age 14, Dekker embarked on a solo two-year sailing trip around the world — chronicled in the excellent 2013 documentary Maidentrip — becoming the youngest person to complete the journey. In her talk, Dekker shared highlights of the experience, as well as lessons learned along the way.

After hurting her foot on board her boat, Dekker was nursed back to health by a family on an island in the South Pacific. When she tried to give them a token of her appreciation, they refused, acting almost offended by the offering, Dekker told the crowd. Later, someone from that region told her that the concept of thanking someone by giving them something in return wasn't the way these islanders had learned to express appreciation; it felt too transactional. In their culture, showing thanks took the form of reciprocating with friendship or help, or paying it forward — passing on the kindness to someone else.

Dekker's words made me think about the way we American parents try to instill gratitude in our kids. The written and verbal expressions of thankfulness we often ask of our children can feel forced or inauthentic. What if, instead of pestering our kids to write a thank-you note or quietly muttering "Say thank you" the next time someone gives them something, we try asking them to think of how they could return the kindness, or put more kindness out into the world instead? It's a paradigm shift I'm willing to try.

In this month's issue, we explore the theme of "Giving Back" — a nod to the holiday of Thanksgiving. Here, find my article about the Lullaby Project, an initiative started at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 2011, that helps pregnant women and new moms and dads write original songs for their babies. In October, Scrag Mountain Music and Writers for Recovery teamed up to offer the sweet opportunity to parents at Lund's residential treatment center. Mary Ann Lickteig writes about Vermont's new chapter of Project Linus, a 24-year-old nonprofit organization that provides homemade blankets to hospitalized children. Colchester resident and former elementary school principal Joyce Irvine started the chapter this year after her young grandson was diagnosed with childhood cancer.

Because the holidays are drawing near, we're also featuring a gift guide starting, with ideas for presents — most of which can be purchased locally — that will help your kids stay active, experience new things, pitch in around the house, read more and have fun.

Finally, we're happy to announce that our Good Citizen Challenge is officially underway. The fun and educational project aims to help young people become more civically engaged by completing a variety of quizzes and activities. Visit goodcitizenvt.com to get started.

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