12/22/2011 08:43 pm ET Updated Feb 21, 2012

Giving Back at Holiday Time

My son and I baked brownies again this year. It's become an annual holiday tradition. The house smells wonderful, and it's tempting to lick the spoon and indulge in a sampling or two. We resist. They're not for us.

We bring them to the local volunteer firehouse to thank them for all that they do to help keep our community safe. It's a small gesture, but one that I hope speaks volumes to my son, both now and as he continues to mature.

At age 8, the world still largely revolves around him, though he is aware of the fact that we need to be grateful for what we have and to recognize that others aren't always so fortunate. I can't remind him of this enough. And action speaks louder than words.

Gratitude doesn't come naturally. As an only child, he is indulged. We try not to overdo it, but in today's "keep up with the Joneses" electronic age, new devices abound on an almost daily basis: Wii, iPad, Xbox, Nintendo 3DS, you name it. I have to admit, I'm not tehnically up-to-date enough to spout the latest, greatest innovations. Seth knows more than I do, as do his classmates, and he's constantly informing me of new games, products, etc. At this point, he has a Wii, a computer, a portable DVD player, and iPod, and several old, used Game Boys. We have felt that this is more than enough, though he is chomping at the bit for Hanukkah and his February birthday to add to his arsenal.

When I was growing up, playtime was simple. I had my Kiddles, Barbie dolls, and pot holder loom, and whether doing arts and crafts or creating a make-believe play space for my dolls, I could entertain myself for hours, and nothing required a battery or charger.

Times have changed.

My son has a busy schedule: two after-school programs, Hebrew school, kickboxing, and piano lessons, not to mention homework, special projects, etc. It's easy to get caught up on your "to-do list," but in my humble opinion, it needs to include giving back.

I've long wanted to take him to a soup kitchen.

We have visited the Ronald McDonald House and cooked for the families residing there as their sick children are treated at the local hospital. Health is certainly not something to be taken for granted, and my son has huge empathy and a desire to make others feel good. That's an instinct he was likely born with and that hopefully my husband and I have helped nurture.

We have a pet cockatiel, and on more than one occasion Seth has helped rescue him when he thought he might get into harm's way. He's been hugely proud of himself, and we are sure to take note of his heroic efforts. Once, he was afraid that Smokey, the bird, was going to fall behind our king-sized bed during one of the reckless flying sprees that he gets into at times. So, Seth quickly pounced on the bed and blocked the bird from hitting the headboard, forcing him to land instead on the pillowtop mattress.