Today is my 30th Birthday. Happy Birthday to me!
I have been celebrating my birthday for the past month, now, by carrying out a little project. I wanted to take the always-slightly-uncomfortable idea of a 'big birthday' and turn it into a fun project - and that's when I came up with '30 Random Acts of Kindness'. Instead of a birthday present from my mum and dad, I asked for (and was very kindly supplied with) some money to help me to do my project, and I contributed a bit to the pot as well.
The idea was to do one random act of kindness per day, for the 30 days leading up to my 30th birthday. Of course, they weren't entirely 'random' in that I planned a few of them beforehand, and even selected some of the recipients, but they were random in that they were something that I went out of my way to do that I wouldn't otherwise have done. I know from experience that little things can make such a big difference to someone's day. I hope that at least one or two of my actions made somebody smile.
If I could take away one thing that I have learned from my first three decades, it is that what Mother Theresa said is true: "We cannot all do great things for the world, but we can do small things, with great love."
I hope that you enjoy reading about how I celebrated my 30th birthday.
Day 1: It was a horrible, rainy day. I bought a bouquet of flowers in Sainsburys that was called 'Burst of Sunshine'. I then wrote a note that said that I hoped the flowers would brighten up the rainy day, and put it in an envelope, writing on the envelope 'To you (yes, you!)' and tucked the envelope in with the flowers. I then sat in my car waiting to see someone go in to the supermarket. I wanted to do this as didn't want to be 'caught in the act!' After a while I saw an older lady park and go in to the supermarket. Heart hammering, I jumped out of my car and went and put the flowers on the windscreen, pinning them with the wiper. I hope that she enjoyed her little bit of sunshine when she got back to the car. The thought of it certainly made me smile for the rest of the day!
Day 2: Inspired by the fun I had yesterday, today I paid for a random person to get their car washed in Sainsburys car park. I did my own shopping first, and then after packing it into the car, hung around looking for my 'victim' and probably looking like some kind of potential car thief. I soon saw an old couple arrive in a little P reg Fiesta and park in a disabled bay, helped out by a younger guy who was probably their son. When they were safely in the supermarket, I approached the car wash guys and explained that I wanted a car washed, payment up front, as a surprise. They seemed confused, but agreed and even took the note I'd prepared, to put on the windscreen when done. I then went back to my car and decided to drive past to make sure they were doing it(!) I took off my outer layer, took my hair out of the ponytail and put on my glasses. 'Disguise' complete, I drove round and parked near the car, where I saw the guys busily at work. By the time I left, the car was gleaming and the note was in place on the windscreen, explaining about the 30 RAOKs and that I hoped they'd enjoy their shiny car. (PS This pic was taken from my stakeout - guy in yellow vest is one of the car washers. It makes me laugh because, judging by the streaks on my windows, I could do with offering myself the same kindness... )
Day 3: Today's RAOK was to take a donation of food to the foodbank collection point. I took a few things out of our cupboards (things like pasta sauces that I'd bought but we never use, and the two, four packs of tuna that I'd bought when we don't even eat fish...) and then topped it up by doing a shop. I felt a bit guilty buying the basics stuff (trust me to find a way to feel bad about doing a good thing... ) but it made my money go further and is good food, anyway. When I was shopping, I couldn't help thinking about how it would feel to not be able to put food in my hungry children's tummies. It's an unbearable thought. Everything pictured here cost me a total of £12.88. I am going to do this one again on a regular basis.
Day 4: Today's RAOK was to write a letter to someone who has made a difference in my life, that I never got the chance to thank at the time. I wrote to Laura, the wonderful miscarriage nurse who was so incredibly kind to me. She was really wonderful. She skipped her lunch to come and hang out with me when I was admitted to the ward. When a scan confirmed the little one was gone, she gave me a hug - a simple, human hug. A few months later when I was pregnant again and referred for an early scan, she was so reassuring and helpful - and when she picked up the notes after I had a scan which showed a healthy pregnancy, she said 'Yes!' and did a little hop. I wrote her a letter to tell her that I had never forgotten her kindness, and that also I would not change what happened for the world, as it led to Eilidh. I enclosed a picture of my darling girl, saying that Laura must see a lot of sadness in her job, and I wanted her to know that my story had a happy ending.
Day 5: Although I planned some fun RAOKs to do in advance, I've also left some space for really random ones to occur, and one of those happened today. It was nothing major, but I think it still counts. Our neighbour's car is broken down and yesterday I took her to the supermarket. Today, she got in touch to ask if I was going back to the supermarket. I was feeling a bit poorly, didn't really need to go and was actually already in my PJs again. I realised, however, that there's no point in doing nice things for strangers if I can't even do a nice thing for a neighbour - and when I saw her leaving her house to walk there in the rain it cemented it for me and I hopped into clothes again and gave her a lift. I hope that a neighbour would do the same for me if the situation was reversed, and I also used the opportunity to buy some medication to help me feel better, so I gained something too. (Ps, if anyone knows my neighbour, please don't tell her about this as she'd be mortified! I'm using the little RAOK slips I had printed when an explanation is needed (such as washing someone's car) but not when it's just something thoughtful (like sending the letter yesterday or giving the lift today).
Day 6: Today I sent a 'box of sunshine' to someone lovely. I got a small cardboard box, covered the edges (badly) in gold paper and filled it with yellow things - biscuits, sweeties, some pencils, some crisps, honey almonds, yellow scented tealights and a lovely yellow card. I have sent it to the lady who was the family minister in my church for years (now retired), who did our beautiful wedding ceremony, voluntarily drove miles with us afterwards to S's father's hospital bedside to do another little ceremony, who christened both our children despite us living far away and who got in touch when a relative of ours died, to offer comfort and support despite us not being in her parish. She is kindness itself and deserves this 'box of sunshine', which I sent anonymously with a warm note in the card (although the postcode may give me away!)
Day 7: Today I filled a few envelopes with some packets of chocolate buttons and enclosed a note in each one, saying 'Being a parent is hard work. Enjoy a little treat on me' written on the back of my '30 RAOK' notes, and I put them on some car windscreens of cars parked in the 'parent and child' spaces. I'm quite aware with this that some people will proably find it more weird than kind (after all, how many times have we been told not to accept sweets from strangers...?) but I've decided it's worth it for the people who enjoy the gesture and find their day a little better for it (whether they actually eat the chocolate or not!)
Day 8: Today I did an RAOK that I had planned but wasn't sure if I'd be brave enough to carry out: I paid for the car behind me at a drive through. I was taking the children to McDonalds as a Saturday lunchtime treat anyway, as they'd been really good this morning when I was feeling poorly. In case I felt brave enough, I prepared an envelope in advance addressed 'To the car behind me... ' and inside I wrote a letter explaining why I was paying for their lunch, and enclosed one of my 'Scatter Kindness' slips. I was worried about this one as lots of things had to line up - I needed the car behind me not to be packed with teenagers, for example (due to ££). I also was really anxious that in the time it took to collect my food, the car behind would catch up with me and either try to offer me the money back or thank me. I drew up to the payment window still deciding in that moment if I was going to do it, and then seizing the moment I asked if I could pay for the car behind me too. The staff looked confused so I ended up having to explain what I was doing, which made them all smile and get quite excited! I handed them the letter, and then had to do two transactions (for my meal and then theirs). I am SO not cut out for this, though, as I was properly shaking at this point and struggled to enter my pin! Putting myself 'out there' is such a personal challenge for me. I then raced to the next window, grabbed my food and drove off quickly! In my rearview mirror, before I rounded the corner, I could just see the lady opening the note... The bill was less than a tenner and I hope it made her day (I feel like a bit of the fun and kindness spread to the ladies at McDs as well, who loved being part of it). These RAOKs all feel quite selfish as I'm getting so much pleasure out of them. People have asked me if it is unsatisfying not seeing the reactions to these things but actualy I think it's even better, as I get to imagine it forevermore!
[update - this appeared on our local 'Spotted' Facebook page later in the day. Tee hee!]
Day 9: A very simple one today: when I was in the supermarket, the children were begging for those little toys that come out of the gumball-style machines at the checkouts. After buying them one each, I loaded up each machine (four of them) with a pound coin, ready for the next children who come along. I wasn't even out of the door before I spied two little girls looking covetously at the toys while their parent checked out the groceries, and then saying excitedly, 'Mummy! Mummy!' as they spotted the waiting coins... No note left for this one as no explanation really needed.
Day 10: Something a bit different today - I became a bone marrow donor. This actually all started a few months ago when I heard about a little girl called Margot Martini who at just 17 months was battling a rare form of leukaemia. Her family were desperately looking for a stem cell donor to save her life. When you are a parent, one of the most upsetting things is that whenever you hear about something like this, you can't help imagining what it would be like if it happened to you, and your deeply-cherished children. I thought about what I would want, if I were in their shoes - and of course I would want every single person to register as a donor in order to give my precious child the chance of finding a match, and of life. I registerd with Delete Blood Cancer, who sent me a cheek swab kit. A quick swab of my cheeks and a couple of minutes later I was done. Today, my donor card arrived, confirming that I am on the register. There is only a 1 in 1,200 chance I'll be matched. People think that bone marrow donation is hugely painful but actually the majority of marrow donations are done non-surgically, by a process that involves simply removing cells from the bloodstream. Please consider joining me on the register. [update - very sadly, little Margot Martini has had a relapse - please join the register for her and all those like her.]
Day 11: Another fun one today. Taking all the loose change I could find, I drove out to the hospital car park and purchased four parking tickets, one after another. I then wrote a big note saying that I had bought them as a random act of kindness (and because I think paying for hospital parking is wrong!) and urged people to take one, and then stuck the tickets around the edges. I also said that I hoped it would make their hospital visit a little better that day. Then I parked nearby to watch the fun for five minutes. By the time I left, two people had approached the machine and come away smiling, with a free ticket in their hands. One man lifted up the whole thing to pay for his own ticket, though, which made me giggle. I really enjoyed this one today but just wish I'd got a better pic before I stuck it up - this was a drive-by pic on my way out of the car park!
Day 12: Today Eilidh and I went to the swimming pool, and I took with my some of my favourite books from our bookshelf. All of them were in good condition - read once type thing. I then had fun leaving them in various cubicles and in lockers with notes peeking out that said that they were a gift as a random act of kindess and to please take it if they thought they might enjoy it. I hope that at least one or two of them were found by people who might like them; they deserved to be read and as much as I wish I had time, I can't imagine that I would get a chance to re-read them anytime soon so they should be set free and enjoyed!
Day 13: Slightly cheating today - I actually did this one yesterday but knew I wasn't going to be going anywhere or seeing anyone (or have any time to do anything) today so I doubled up in advance. It's also a small one, but might make someone feel a little bit pleased, and that's what it's all about. Yesterday at the pool, after getting Eilidh the obligatory 'snack' from the vending machine, I fed the machine again with £1 before we left, so that the next person who comes along gets a free snack. I didn't leave an explanation - I think it's ok if they sometimes just think the universe has handed them a little kindness.
Day 14: Today's Random Act of Kindness was one that my dad has been really keen for me to do - talk to people. It's also a personal challenge because I am a quiet person - definitely more of an introvert than an extrovert. My dad pointed out, however, that when his wife is away (as she is very often), the person who speaks to him in the shop can be the only person he speaks to all day. So today I set out to talk to as many people in the supermarket as possible. Arran and I helped advise some grandparents who were looking for biscuits for their grandchildren and I told a man that his baby daughter was beautiful. I blurted out that I was thinking about buying an entire selection box of cream cakes and eating them all myself and a lady nearby looked startled at first and then kindly advised me that I ought not to shop when hungry. I chatted to a random lady whom I later bumped into in a totally different context and it was like meeting a friend. I also had a very funny x-rated conversation with the cashier (I won't go into details to spare your blushes but it made me walk away giggling and I think it improved her day too!) I really enjoyed this one and people responded so warmly. I am going to have to learn to be a little more extroverted as these human interactions really made a simple shopping trip so much nicer all round.
Day 15: Today I went through my big cupboard and cleared out all the clothes that I never wear. I was realistic about it, rather than my previous attempts where I've kept garments that I've never worn because I might 'someday'. I then bundled up a huge bin bag full and took them all to donate to Oxfam.
Day 16: As I said before, I have left some room in my RAOK plan for truly random ones to occur. Today I had got to the end of the day with no time for RAOKs and a friend in South Africa popped up online to ask my advice about Care Bears. One of my many jobs is being Editor of ToyTalk and so people sometimes ask me stuff about toys. Their daughter was desperate for a Care Bear for her birthday but they are not available in SA. I quickly established that they are no longer made in the UK but can be procured and I ordered two to be sent to my house, which I will then send on to South Africa - hopefully helping the lovely parents to make their little girl very happy! I feel a bit guilty including this as it's something I would have done anyway, but I loathe going to the post office with a passion, and this will involve posting overseas, so I hope that I am allowed to count it. [update - now posted]
Day 17: Today I saw a beautiful floral scarf in a shop and my RAOK idea was born. I bought it, wrapped it up nicely and posted it to the florist in my little hometown back in Scotland. With it, I enclosed a note (written in a lovely floral card) thanking her for all she has done for my family over the years, including all the effort she went to to get the flowers I specially wanted for my wedding (September flowers.... in August!) I thanked her for playing a special role in all of my family's joys and sorrows over the years, as she is always our 'go to' person for flowers, and her cheerful and down to earth kindness deserved some kind of thanks. By complete coincidence, when looking up her address online I saw that she has suffered a bereavement recently, and so I hope that this little gesture picks her up a bit and she knows how important she is to people.
Day 18: Something really funny has happened. A little piece has appeared in our local paper about the lady who received the flowers outside Sainsburys! Apparently it 'made her day' (and they are also asking if anyone has any info on me so she can thank me hehe!)
I didn't want to get in touch to be thanked, so what I did was to send a card to the reporter listed on the article today. I told her that the project was random acts of kindness so it was a real treat to see that it had brightened up the day of the recipient, and that that was all the thanks I needed. It also gave me a great opportunity to do today's RAOK - with the card I sent a big box of chocolates for her and all her colleagues at the paper. I hope the whole thing really tickles them. I've attached a pic of the article and I'm really sorry that I had to pixelate the face as she looked like such a lovely lady, but it didn't seem fair for people to know who she is when she doesn't know who I am! For the same reason, I've also blocked out the name of her hometown and the Sainsburys we were both at that day!
Day 19: For all the RAOKs I've done, there are also several I've chickened out of. People I've stalked around the supermarket trying to look for an opportunity to slip a gift voucher into their trolley unnoticed. Lurking in my car, watching someone go into the supermarket in the hope of putting something on their windscreen, only to have them turn around and come back to their car to wait for their partner. I even took back a man's trolley at Aldi the other day and then couldn't get it attached to the rest, so he came over to help me! As I am really shy, and also because I think people would find a gift from a stranger too confronting, I think the anonymous ones work well. Today, I left two £5 Sainsburys gift cards in cubicles at the swimming pool. One I left on the bench and the other I folded up inside the baby changing table, with a 'scatter kindness' card in each.
Day 20: Today I went to the dentist - something I am terrified of due to a previous traumatic experience that landed me in A&E. I was sitting in the waiting room literally shivering when an older lady came in looking fantastic, with blue hair and a blue outfit. By a coincidence, I had been reading Eilidh a book about a fairy with blue hair, so I started to talk to Eilidh about the lady and how I thought she may be a fairy, smiling at the lady all the while. She was so pleased, and Eilidh was in awe. She and Eilidh then made good friends and she read the fairy story to Eilidh, before doing some puzzles together. Forcing myself to get out of my head and think about making someone else's day better was so positive, and had the added benefit of distracting me and making the time go faster till my appointment. Even though it turns out I need a three hour root canal treatment costing £220 (serves me right for visiting the dentist on Friday 13th... ), I still came away feeling more positive than I woud have otherwise.
Day 21: Today I sent a birthday card to someone I've never met - for her 100th birthday. I actually stumbled accross a lady online who was trying to do a fun thing for her great grandmother on her 100th birthday, and was arranging for 100 cards to be sent to her (in the US) from all around the world. I was able to help both my project and hers today by posting a card from England to the great grandmother, wishing her a very happy birthday.
Day 22: I've been sworn off buying the Big Issue for years, ever since I got harassed in quite a scary way by a Big Issue seller in Brighton one day. I realise now that he probably wasn't an official seller. Anyway, since we moved here I've been walking past the guy who sells the issue outside the bank(!) regularly. Today I stopped and not only did I buy a Big Issue, I paid for it with a £20 note and told him to keep the change. He said 'God bless you' which I thought was a lovely response.
*Today I also bought myself some new underwear. Why am I telling you this? Is it a random act of kindness for any creepy weirdos who stumble across my blog? No. Well maybe, but not intentionally. The reason I'm telling you is this: it has a pretty pattern of dandelions with seeds blowing off them on it. This is the same design that I chose for my 'Scatter Kindness' cards, because I liked the image of the little pieces of kindness floating off and spreading and taking root, the way dandelions do. When I saw the underwear I had to buy it as I kept giggling at the idea of putting on my 'kindness pants' like some kind of low-level superhero and going out to do Random Acts of Kindness in my kindness pants.*
Day 23: Kindness Pants on (underneath my clothes - not superman style), I went into town today, determined to finally do something with the £20 Sainsburys voucher I've been carrying around for days on end. I didn't want to leave another one at Sainsburys but do something different. I realised that the problem was that I had been looking for someone who looked 'deserving' so I could slip it onto their car or something, and really Random Kindness shouldn't work like that. Just because someone is rich or young or bad tempered doesn't mean that they don't need kindness. Maybe they need it more. So today I left this one in a phone box in town. I have no idea who will pick it up and so it's truly random.
Also today, this wasn't meant to be a RAOK because it's something I often do, but when I was leaving the car park I offered my ticket to someone else. It's all day parking so my ticket was valid, and it even had the refund slip still attached so if she'd shopped in Asda she'd have got the £2 back for it - and the lady I offered it to said 'No thank you' quite sharply and bought her own. Isn't that odd? People are so closed off sometimes.
Day 24: Every time I go through our local shopping centre, the children beg me for a ride on those machines - the ones that take £1 and go for about two minutes and barely move. Today I had some change so I let Eilidh go on the ride (which is rare so she was thrilled). Then, on the spur of the moment, I put one of the 'Scatter Kindness' slips to explain and a £1 coin on the seat of the machine, ready for the next person. I must admit I hung around a little bit to see if anyone spotted it. It was funny because several chilren came past begging for a go on the ride and their parents whisked them past, the way I always do. When I left, nobody with a child had spotted it yet but two couples had seen it and stopped to look at it and read the note, which made me smile.
Day 25: Today was an unplanned and spontaneous one. I parked next to a very sweet-looking lady at the supermarket (you can tell by how many of these take place there that I spend my life at the wretched place). I noticed a few things about her - she had a massive bashed bit on her car, she had a newborn baby and she had an expired tax disc. After I'd finished shopping, she was still in the supermarket and I decided to make it my RAOK of the day. I wished I had planned something in advance but I hope that even the gesture makes her smile. I got a Scatter Kindness slip and on the back I wrote 'Oh dear - with this car bash it looks like you've had some bad luck. Here's some good luck to redress the balance! Ps) Don't forget to renew your tax disc - those fines suck (I know!).' and then put a tenner in the envelope (it's all I had on me). I don't know her circumstances and probably the money will mean nothing but it was the gesture that was important (and the reminder re the tax disc may be annoying or it may be really useful, as I know that when you have a tiny baby, it's easy to forget these little things).
Day 26: I've been meaning to do this for ages; I have signed up as a volunteer for a charity called Silver Line. This charity matches older people with little/no support with volunteers, who phone them once a week to check up on them and have a chat. I spend half my life on the phone, so what's an extra half an hour? I actually filled in the application etc ages ago but today I finally committed to doing the training, which will then allow me to be matched. I am actually really looking forward to speaking to whomever they match me with.
Day 27: I was less convinced about today's one than I have been about any of the others. I'm not sure it's really going to have a positive impact on anyone, but I thought it was worth a try. I got the inspiration from reading about a woman called Hannah Brencher, who started a site called The World Needs More Love Letters. A young woman in New York, she writes letters of hope and friendliness and leaves them for strangers. As cute an idea as this is, I'm not sure I'd take it as anything other than a meaningless platitude, coming from a stranger who doesnt know me or my circumstances. Nevertheless, I wanted to give it a go. I once read a little note that came around Facebook and rather than making me nauseous as most of the cr*p on there does, this actually had an impact on me. It said 'RELAX. You are enough, you have enough, you do enough.' I'm very guilty of putting a lot of pressure on myself and it was a valuable reminder. So, instead of letters as such, I wrote this message into several cards and dropped them off around town. Maybe at least one will be picked up by someone who just needed to read those words.
Day 28: I had some blood tests done recently - they run a drop in system at our local hospital rather than appointments, so you go in and take a ticket and wait for your number to be called. I took ticket number 86 and was startled when I looked up at the machine and it indicated that they were currently on number 24... until I saw the packed waiting room. I was there for nearly three hours in total. I had no book or anything with me so it was a long wait! At one point, a man came in and took a ticket, looked at it and then looked up at the number on the machine and then back at his ticket, exclaiming 'blimey, that's tomorrow!' At another point, an old lady with the next ticket number jokingly offered it up to the highest bidder. Nevertheless, it was a long wait, and no more so than for the people who had small children with them. For once, my two were at home with S, but normally they are with me on all occassions so I know what this feels like. This is a very long-winded way of saying that today I went to Wilkos and bought ten fairly cheap sticker books and donated them to the blood-taking-department waiting room so that anyone who comes in with small children for a while will find that there is something for them to do.
Day 29: Aware of the time of 'the birthday' nearly being upon me, I was feeling a little fed up this evening as I'd not had a chance to do anything today - and then a post appeared on Facebook. A lovely lady who has been through so much is raising money for a charity that helped her during one of the worst times of her life - and of course I had to donate. I can still vividly remember the moment I found out she was expecting a much-longed-for baby against all odds following an ectopic pregnancy. I also think that it must be a bit daunting to start fundraising and so I wanted to get the ball rolling for her. She's walking a half marathon and I hope she doesn't mind me sharing her link, because I'd really like it if anybody else could donate a bit of spare change for this great charity.
Day 30: Last day of the project today. I still had lots of ideas but wasn't sure what to do - so dad advised me to just wait and see what happened and do something random. Eilidh and I went out to grab lunch and I was prepared for anything from buying something for someone to helping someone out. It turned up in the form of an older lady in the queue at the bakery, who had a red floral dress on, a red streak in her hair and a red flower in the red streak - a really carefully put together look. Stepping out of my 'ignore all people around me and definitely don't comment on them' comfort zone, I spoke to her and told her that I loved her hair and outfit and that she looked amazing. She smiled and looked so pleased that I'd commented, telling me that she'd just had the hair done. I'm not someone who feels very confident about my appearance so when people compliment me it can actually make my day. Perhaps it was the same for this lady.
I've had so much fun doing this project, and it's made me feel very positive about turning 30. I also feel like it's changed my outlook a bit - I'm more aware of the world around me, thinking about how I can make other people's days a bit better.
My birthday today has been just perfect - I have been totally spoilt and I feel very loved.
*Final note: I feel a bit funny about blogging this and have thought it through a lot. I was worried that it would seem self aggrandising, a sort of 'look at how kind I've been' tribute to myself. That is not how it's intended. I wanted to post it for two reasons, firstly, because I got the idea from reading the blog of a stranger who had done a similar thing but for her 40th birthday. I loved reading about what she got up to and it inspired me. Secondly, because it was just so much FUN! I wanted to share what I've been up to recently.*