The chorus of "I wants" has begun.
And it's publicly known that I'm a mean mom. That is, what you want is probably not what you'll get.
You'll get something made of wood. Something practical. Maybe a hammer. Or a rubber mallet, to be on the safe side. And extremely helpful in assembling IKEA furniture.
I might be a practical gift-giver, but I'm no dream crusher. I let you circle toy Slurpee Machines and Barbie Mansions in the Sunday ad.
I ask you what you what you like about the helium-filled remote control shark. And what you imagine you'd do with that talking fur ball toy.
And, I'll admit, sometimes I get a little sassy. Like: why do you think you need that play kitchen when you already have a perfectly good one?
Mostly, I say: put it on your list. Then, we don't have to discuss it any further.
And as long as you're looking, I suggest that you look less for things you want and more for things that you think your family and friends would want. And I try not to say anything when you propose that your Baby Cousin wants a Power Wheels Hummer.
It seems like a little bit of a parenting set-up to expect us to teach you about gratitude and thankfulness in November with Christmas taunting, bejeweled and flashing, around every corner.
I know the right answer is that it's that much more important to teach you about gratitude when Christmas is around the corner. And when Advent comes, it'll be a whole 'nother round of moral messaging, waiting for baby Jesus to get here.
There are lots of things that I've tried to do to teach you to be thankful for what you have, not only during the holiday season, but every day. Only a few have really stuck.
The first one I learned about from Bel's Ninong because he does it with his girls--but Dr. Christine Carter talks about it in her book, my parenting bible, Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. That's where I got the other ideas, below, too.
Talk about kindness. Every night at dinner (okay, almost every night) I ask you what kind thing you did today and if there was a kind thing someone did for you. Usually, the answer for both is "playing nicely."
It's also a time for me to think about my day. If I was thankful enough for the kind things others did for me--if I was even aware of the kind things.
In our society, especially, where we pay for goods and services, we tend to think that we are entitled to things; that we deserve to be treated a certain way, as we order our non-fat lattes and such. Simultaneously, all civility has been thrown out the window, such that when a stranger holds a door for you or smiles, it seems the exception to the rule.
Sometimes, it's difficult for me to identify any kindness in my day.
Talk explicitly about those who have less than us. And not just in a vague, threatening I'm-going-to-give-your-toys-to-other-children way (though that does happen out of I-stepped-on-another-abandoned-toy frustration.) But, when teachable moments arise, we talk about suffering, pain, poverty, homelessness, hunger and, even, death.
We want to protect our children, to shield them, to hurry past the panhandlers and the people whose demons cry out to us on the street. As adults, it's easy to ignore these things. But, my children see them anyway.
So, we talk about them. And I don't always have the words or answers. And I rarely have a solution or any idea of what to say or do next. But, for now, the important thing is that you girls know that many folks don't have what we have and to develop your empathy, to teach you to be considerate of others (at all times), and to provide you with opportunities to feel compassion.
(blessing bags from Pinterest, something we've done before)
Flip your assumptions on their head. The other thing I've done in the past that helps to teach you gratitude is to address your ingratitude, your assumptions, the things you take for granted.
When you start acting sassy, entitled, demanding--spoiled--I try not to indulge you.
I'll give you the three-year-old occasional mis- and over-usage of absolutes, like always and never. But, when you say, "Mommy you always make dinner" or "I always get a sweet snack after dinner" or "I never have to do garbage chores because Daddy does them" or you just aren't saying please and thank you--that's exactly the moment where I don't make dinner, you don't get a sweet snack, you put the recylcing out, or you don't get what you want.
It sounds harsh, not making you dinner, but it gives you the opportunity to do something kind for me, making peanut butter sandwiches or tortilla pizzas for dinner. And you're much more appreciative the next day.
There's not much that I want, I'm not from a family that made Christmas lists or wrote to Santa. That's mostly because I wanted for nothing.
As a child (and even today), whenever I asked Lola what she wanted for her birthday or Christmas, she always replied that she wanted "happy children." I suppose she means not only a child who is joyful, who is fulfilled by what she does, but also a child who has no reason to be discontented, who appreciates, with wonder and thankfulness all that she has.
On my list this year is: happy children, kind and compassionate children, considerate and grateful children.
Doesn't seem like much, and yet it does.
To quote your Uncle Bruce's benediction that he has used over the past couple decades of his ministry:
"Go forth into the world
With compassion and justice in your heart
Give strength to the weak
Give voice to the silent
See one another
Hear one another
Care for one another
And love one another
It’s all that easy
And it’s all that hard"