Saturday, July 5, 2008

Secret Elf Project: DAY 1

One year when I taught Creative Writing, I assigned my students a "Secret Angel" project to complete over the winter break. Their challenge was to do something nice for a neighbor, anonymously, and document it somehow: a photo of their homemade gift or good deed, or an affidavit from a credible witness.

After the holidays, students shared their ideas and experiences, which included washing neighbors' cars, baking fresh bread, and writing and leaving sweet notes. The good feelings that resulted encouraged some students to continue committing "random acts of kindness."

My eldest daughter is almost five now, the perfect age to participate in a Secret Good Deed Enterprise. As my month-long July vacation neared, I suggested to her that we could spread some cheer this summer by leaving little surprises for our neighbors under the guise of "Secret Elf."

Immediately enthusiastic, she wasted no time coming up with ideas and telling people about our plan, including some neighbors.

Saturday morning we launched our Project, baking cherry muffins for two neighboring families. My daughter wrote the accompanying notes, which read (backward letters translated): "Muffins for (you). From Secret Elf."

She and her dad crept out of the house with the bounty, dropping off the first package across the street at the home of her good friend, a fellow four-year old. They rang the doorbell and bolted, Doorbell-Ditch style.

Dad and Daughter were concerned that the other targets, our neighbors to the left, were not home. So they came back for some foil to cover the muffins as they waited on the front porch for their beneficiaries. But the neighbors heard the Secret Elf ruckus and came to the door, at home after all. My daughter declared that the muffins were theirs from the Secret Elf. Our kind neighbors were sufficiently charmed and grateful, and my daughter jubilant.

But the best part of Secret Elf Project Day 1 awaited us when we returned from lunch out with friends: On the front porch rocking chair was a poster-size card with our daughter's name, and a drawing of her carrying muffins (above).

Inside, the couple next door had written, "Since you know who the Secret Elf is, will you please tell her thanks for us? This morning we were sitting in our jammies and drinking our coffee. We had forgotten to get something for breakfast at the store. Then we smelled this wonderful baking smell floating through our windows! It made us so hungry! Then you came to the rescue with elf muffins! Please tell the elf thank you for us. Your neighbors..."

Daughter has asked me to read the card to her about ten times.

My favorite part is that the sound of tantrums is not the only thing floating through our neighbors' windows.

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