Have you ever read “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams? It’s one of my favorite book series, both as a kid and still as an adult. Because of this book, my favorite number has always been 42 – it’s the answer! And this year, I turned 42!
The birthdays ending in 9 (19, 29, 39) have always been the worst for me – usually bad luck days for me. The zero birthdays aren’t much better. I was determined to make 42 the best year yet, and it’s been that way so far!
I decided to use this number for some big fun for my birthday. But first, I have to tell you about my best friends. I have five best friends from my childhood – we get together at least once a year. We all live far apart but are connected and bonded together. Do you have childhood friends? There’s something different about people who knew the kid you, and who now know the adult you. They know you best, and can help remind you of who you are when you forget. My five best friends love me unconditionally, help ground me, and make me laugh harder than I ever have in my life. I trust them with my secrets, and they never make fun of my dreams.
They came to Chicago for a birthday weekend, and we went out to celebrate!
I’ve been reading about people who use their birthdays as a chance to spread random acts of kindness, like this woman and I wanted to create that experience for us too.
I’m teaching myself Adobe Illustrator, and as I take the train to and from work, I have about 90 minutes a day to learn new things. In the weeks leading up to our weekend, I created materials that we could use, although a graphic designer I am not. I called our mission “What The?” for two reasons. First, that’s an inside joke, one of my friend’s daughters said that out of nowhere and it cracked us up. Second, I figured it would be the response we’d get from the people who would receive these random kindnesses.
We chose a Friday our What The? day, and we wore matching t-shirts to make us into a little gang. We started with a lunch at Portillos, with delicious cheese french fries, and then went to the Barnes and Noble bookstore. We hid six gift certificates inside our favorite books around the store, and then ran out like school girls. Next up? The fire station.
We heard that you can’t bring public service workers homemade treats (WTF?) because of poison worries. So instead, we stocked up on delicious pre-packaged food from the grocery store, and rang the doorbell at the fire house. When they answered the door and saw us in our matching shirts, as we expected, they were like “What the?”, but when they saw the treats, they called the rest of the firefighters in to meet us. We asked if we could take their photo, and when they responded with “Do you want to take your photo in front of the truck?”, we were like, heck yeah, we want to be in front of the truck! They pulled the truck out of the garage, and posed with us, let me wear the firefighter gear, and even invited us in for coffee. Our small kindness was rewarded by their kindness, they could not have been any nicer to us. Big thanks to these guys:
Next, our kindness mission took us to IKEA. We are all good law-abiding citizens, so we felt like we had to do our kindnesses in secret, so we didn’t get arrested for soliciting or reckless giggling. We took 42 envelopes with kind messages and lottery tickets, and hid them all throughout the furniture in our local IKEA. When an employee found us with one of our envelopes in her hand, we thought for sure we were busted (and some of us even ran away!) But no, she was excited and wanted to say thank you! Whew!
After that, we went to a local playground / baseball field with 42 easter eggs filled with kindness notes and $1 each. I chose the plastic easter eggs because I wanted something waterproof, even though this was long past Easter. We took our time hiding the eggs all around, with the local parents giving us the serious stink eye. Six women in matching t-shirts, wandering around hiding things, I’m sure I would have been suspicious too. But we took the initiative and went over to the playground mommas and I said “Hey listen, we’re not creepy. We’re doing random acts of kindness.” They were not impressed, nor kind (again, WTF?) Sigh. As we were leaving, we told the kids playing basketball there was money hidden all around the park, and at first, they didn’t believe us (would you?) and then they took off running to find the eggs. Worth it.
We spent the rest of the afternoon at the movies, and when we came out of the movies and got in the car, there was a giant bag of cupcakes in my car! I thought at first it was from one of the girls, but then realized that my husband had found my car in the giant mall parking lot, and hidden the cupcakes inside with a note from him and my daughter. The note read “Every good deed deserves a cupcake!” A perfect finish to the best birthday ever.
There were other kindness acts we did too, such as handing out coloring books and crayons to little kids at restaurants, buying strangers meals anonymously, and handing out “We appreciate you” cards to service workers.
I think I’m going to make it a birthday tradition – every year, random acts of kindness for the age that I turn. It made me super happy. Thanks to my best friends for making my dream come true, and to my husband for supporting this mission, and my daughter for her enthusiasm.
It only takes a little effort to spread kindness around to strangers. A little effort, a little bravery, and the willingness to put yourself out there. I hope everyone can try.