I walked into a local store the other day to buy some lamps (which I did by the way and they’re really cool). As I was checking out, the owner slipped this into my hands and said “For the boys. I don’t really know them but from everything I can see, you're doing a great job. They’ve really got their priorities right.”
That one hit me hard. Part of what has been causing me anguish over the last few weeks is a deep-seeded concern that despite all my efforts to show them what really matters, they have become ungrateful and unappreciative. That despite my best efforts to show them what loving hard looks like, their outlook was becoming harsh and negative.
I almost handed it back to her, the tears welling up in my eyes again. I felt unworthy of her magnanimity, undeserving of her compliment.
Gratitude is a hot button word these days. As human beings, we are reminded to be thankful for the small blessings in life. We even have a holiday devoted to it.
And it’s awfully easy to be thankful on the fourth Thursday of November when you are sitting around the table with your family or friends, your bellies and hearts full. But the real challenge is the first Monday of February. Or the third Friday in September. And every other day of the year.
It can be hard to be mindful of gratitude when you are mired down in the minutiae of daily life. When you are overwhelmed by a messy house, a desk full of bills, a list of obligations a mile long, and an existential crisis about your purpose in the world.
What we forget is that it can also be hard when you’re 7 or 9 and you are overwhelmed by a structured day sitting in a classroom, a desk full of homework, a list of things you aren’t allowed to do, and a brain that is still learning how to process emotions.
It can be hard to be grateful when you don’t show yourself the kindness you show to others.
So I took a deep breath, and a big mental step back, and wondered if I have been too hard on myself. If I have expected too much from my kids. From everyone.
And I think the answer is yes.
I have been so consumed with all the things that hurt that I have forgotten how to be grateful for all the things that are good.
It took two new lamps, a pad of paper, and an outsider’s perspective for me to realize that.
So over the weekend, I tried to notice all the things that were right instead of being besieged by the things that were wrong. And, friends, I saw a lot.
Tonight I quietly slid a sheet of paper in front of each of the boys. And then I took one for myself. They didn’t grumble or roll their eyes. They just sat and thought and wrote. They wrote more than 5.
The new Xbox they saved up to buy made the list. But so did the security guard at school who greets them every morning with a smile and a fist bump. Football made an appearance but so did reading books snuggled up in bed.
It was a mishmash of things they have accomplished, things they’ve wanted, and people who are free with their love. It was perfect.
Gratitude comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be lofty or ordinary. It is, I think, just a realization, however fleeting, of the joy of a moment and the feeling of loving and being loved.
And then they put their names at the top along with today’s date. I don’t know why this gesture was so meaningful to me. Perhaps because it implied this was just the first of many lists, many opportunities to be grateful for the little and big things that make up a life.
I hope it is. I hope one day when they are 40, they will open a shoe box crammed with these sheets, with scraps of paper torn off class notes, with cocktail napkins and magazine pages and receipts. A compendium of gratitude. A collection of happiness. A catalogue of a life full of loving and being loved.