Saturday, October 21, 2006

An Attitude of Gratitude

We are about to enter the season of “gimme.” And so I suggest that tomorrow, as you gather ‘round the dining room table for turkey and such, that you ask your children – no matter how wee or how wise – what they are thankful for and why.

This suggestion may seem obvious.

At our table we ask and we answer. From the younger two, the thanks is almost always about a thing—a toy or a piece of electronics. At age 20, Kenny can now point to more emotional or socially-based concepts for which he is grateful, such as graduating from college, securing a job, finding an apartment. Blake, the U.S. Marine, has not been home for Thanksgiving in four years, which may be the very thing he is thankful for on a 22-year-old level!

My husband Jon and I are usually predictable in our giving of thanks; we are always happy to have the family together, to have our collective health, to have our children alive (Blake in particular, given his career).

My father died nine years ago yesterday, on the anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death. With it falling so precariously close to Thanksgiving, there is always a part of me that does not feel very thankful because I miss him and feel he was taken away way too soon. And now my mother is also absent. This will be the first Thanksgiving in my entire life where I will find myself unable to either see or speak with any parent. The urge to dwell in self-pity looms large except when I remember that I should remain grateful that I had as much time with them as was allowed. My own children don’t need to see me blubber all over my stuffing and gravy. They need to see me smile and they need me to love them – and be grateful, too, for that.

This year, though, I want to try something different, something beyond the verbal giving of thanks: I am going to ask them to write a gratitude list.

A gratitude list can comprise things, material possessions, but it should moreover include personal physical attributes we are grateful for (long hair, strong legs, blue eyes), people in our lives, such as mommy, daddy, best friends, a teacher, a dog or cat (okay, dogs and cats are technically not people, but…), and traits about home that both children and adults may not often think about being grateful for, like a pond in the backyard, three windows in the bedroom, a good sledding hill, a cool playroom. A gratitude list may also feature certain qualities about ourselves that equal giving – being a good friend, the ability to make someone laugh when they are feeling sad, offering helpful advice.

Children should be reminded that giving equals getting and that the getting isn’t always something that they can hold in their hands or wear or watch. That they can give one of those items to others without expecting or wanting anything back but a “thank you,” whether audible or silent.

From Thanksgiving until Christmas and/or Hanukah, the life of a child is usually about the gimme’s; the getting. Yet as the saying goes in some circles, “You can’t keep it unless you give it away.” The “it” isn’t a physical thing, like a toy truck or a video game or a doll, the “it” is gratitude for helping another. It is going from entitled to appreciative, and an un-entitled child is just one more thing for which to be thankful.

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