the wobbly stool

Hans is at the age where he’s heard all my opinions and knows all my little lectures by heart. When I start with:

Wearing pants full of holes makes you look…

he finishes:

like your mother doesn’t love you.

And when I chide them for bugging Mary about chewing her nails:

I’m not worried about teaching Mary not to chew her nails I’m worried

he interrupts:

about teaching Mary to be a nice person.

So I wasn’t very surprised during a dinner time conversation when I said:

Service is like a three legged stool..

and he took over:

one leg is serving our family, the second leg is serving our friends and neighbors and the third is serving people we’d never meet otherwise.

And I’m glad he still remembers those words, because I haven’t taught them very well lately.

Last month our American Girl catalog arrived emblazoned with the ad: Enter Our Video Contest and Win a Doll! And what doll? Caroline from 1812– blue eyed, beautiful and with gorgeous long blonde curls. The kind of doll I always pictured in those books where a little girl receives a gorgeous doll as a precious gift: Cosette’s Catherine from Les Miserables or Sara’s Emily in The Secret Garden.

Of course we were game. Mary and I snuggled in her bed planning our entry for the Everyday Hero theme. We wanted the video to be authentic, to portray service Mary offers on a regular basis rather than a contrived project. Mary listed four things she’d done recently and/or repeatedly and we decided to reenact them for the video. Lucky for us, cute Audrey had just returned a costume we meant to give her, so she made it quite easy. One tricky rule declared no other people could appear in the video. It’s pretty hard to portray service without showing other people, but we made it work. After spending more time on the project than I’d like to admit, our result was absolutely adorable. Maybe too adorable.

Our little video didn’t make it into the top six (the finalists all win dolls and one winner a trip to D.C.); you can view and vote for your favorite here. They are all wonderful. When I watched the winning videos I realized most of them featured the third kind of service– serving in the wider world. And honestly, we’d completely neglected the third leg in our little video. We did film a little clip of Mary putting together newborn kits for the Humanitarian Center, but it felt contrived. Mary doesn’t do that on a regular basis and when I talked to her, she couldn’t remember visiting the Humanitarian Center.

It was a needed wake-up call for me. We’ve done a good job on teaching service in the family and the neighborhood but I’ve sorely neglected the third lately. Mary couldn’t remember visiting refugee apartments, painting toys for kids in Africa or sorting cans at the food bank. Those newborn kits? They’ve been sitting in my garage for TWO YEARS because I didn’t have enough diaper pins for the last two sets. Somewhere, in the last few years I let all those efforts slip out of our life. And I can point out some reasons– my stint at Young Women’s President where I was constantly planning projects for the girls, my boys participation in Boy Scouts and Young Men where they do something on the third leg every other week. But really, honestly, I’ve surrounded myself with too much busyness.

Parenting is like this. I’m always dropping things and picking them up again. The older boys chide me– “keep doing the things with the little ones you did with us, mom.” I don’t feel guilty or discouraged. I’ve had a lot going on. But I do feel determined. Forever and always, I believe family service should come first. If we can’t cherish and love and do dishes even when it’s not our turn for the people closest to us, we have no business building houses in the slums, and how sad if we can send school kits and sweet notes to Africa and not be kind to our next door neighbor. But the third kind of service (usually in the ‘project’ category) also holds great importance. Service at home instills kindness and character, service in our neighborhood teaches us respect for every human being and empathy for trials (whether it be cancer or the rough job of working the drive-up window) and service outside our usual realm– downtown or across the world– develops gratitude and a wider view of the needs of God’s children. And it’s not just my children who need these reminders. I need them.

So we’ll be working on the third leg a bit. But I’m not going to say much more because, ya’ know, then we wouldn’t get our blessings in heaven.

And because I’ve already negated those blessings by sending Mary’s video to American Girl, I may as well show it to you. But I’m putting the people back in and changing the music from the boring for the contest to a song you’ve surely heard before, but was running through my head the whole time I filmed this. ‘Cause it is really cute. And it’s only a minute, so you can probably stand to watch it. 😉 If you really want to see our original entry it’s right here.

November 13, 2012
November 20, 2012



  1. Kim

    November 17, 2012

    I love that video! I’m ready to get her the Caroline doll myself after watching that…especially since our sidewalk really needed that raking. Great work! I loved your thoughts on service, and how each “leg” of service adds a different trait to us. So insightful.

  2. Hot Hot JJ

    November 17, 2012

    Mary is DARLING! Oh my! What a beautiful video!

    One cold windy yucky day, please bring Mary (and Gabe!) over. Tell her to bring her favorite American Girl doll. She HAS to see my collection. I have 9 American Girl dolls and more clothes and things than anyone really should.

    My email is (if you didn’t already see it on IG).


  3. Tasha

    November 17, 2012

    I think the first 2 legs of the stool are more important than the 3rd one. I once had a roommate that was so focused on trying to save the world with humanitarian service that she pushed herself to the point of misery and exhaustion. Her relationships with her family and friends suffered. I always wished that she could understand that she made a difference just by being her lovely self. So if any leg on the stool has to be wobbly, I think the 3rd leg should be it.

    And for the record, your video was way more fun to watch than the top 6 finalists. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  4. Tracy

    November 17, 2012

    Oh hon. You are all so wonderful. Love you. xo

  5. Mormon Women: Who We Are

    November 19, 2012

    I dunno, friend. I think sometimes it’s easier to focus on the great big world and neglect the people closest to us. It seems to me you have the order just right. Not saying it isn’t great to teach our kids to branch out, too, but this video just resonates with the truth of the power of simple things. It made me a little teary.

  6. Rachelle

    November 20, 2012

    That’s a SWEET video! Wish you would have won. :o)

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