Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Learned Gift

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”  Marcel Proust

I love that tomorrow is a day of gratitude.  Whether you acknowledge it all month long, all week long, or only for that one day, tomorrow is a day when at one point or another nearly all of us here in the US will stop and say something for which we are thankful.

Do you know one of the most surprising points of parenting for me?  Gratitude and children.  I imagined, pre-children, if you raised your child with, well, love, that's all your child would want to give.  He would give and give gladly.  Some kids probably do.  My kid, not so much.  Not yet.

With our daughter, I was especially thoughtful by way of please and thank you.  Modeling is what we practiced, no forced good graces here.  Sharing was done the same way.  We tried to share most of our things with her and to respect when she did not want to share her own things.  As she grew up I gave thanks whenever she received something, be it a gift-wrapped present or a glass of water.  I grew more conscious of my own thanks-giving practice because of her.  I noticed how often I thanked strangers but how easily I would forget a "please" or "you're welcome" with people I am close to.  Here was another way having a child raised my awareness.

I think, five and a bit years in, the effort, mostly, speaks for itself.  There are still occasions I offer a reminder (that parental mutter "is there anything you want to say to…?") but she's fairly free with her appreciation.

Yet gratitude, the way I define it, is still a struggle.  At five the concept of giving gifts to others as an expression of thanks baffles her.  Packing a shoebox for a church toy drive seems thoughtless.  Shopping for mommy or Gram for Christmas brings up resentment.  "But I want those things!" arises and some part of me wants to rise up too.  That part usually wants to start shouting, be thankful, dammit!  I imagine she might shout, back off, dammit!

I sense there's a feeling of lack- if I give this, I will have less.  That is a logical conclusion and usually accurate.  Yet, I can look around and see how much she has and recognize, giving this will not diminish you, not in a real, innate sense.  It might even increase you, once done a few times.  But she does not that feel that, yet.  I'm probably not going to shout her out of that feeling, am I?  Dammit.

So much of parenting takes time.  We are saddled with our children's milestones, unaware until they're handed over, that they are ours to notice and note.  We are still so preoccupied with our own.  Yet there they are, these targets to hit.  We are grateful for those parents who laugh and blithely wave a dismissive hand over the "do you think she ought to be… by now?"  There are others who set our teeth on edge with their excessive bragging or phony concern- "she's one and she's talking in complete sentences! Do you think it's too early?"  Your child might walk early but talk late.  He might write easily but struggle with using the potty.  No matter the practice, it will take time and it will be a practice.

Brene Brown considers gratitude not to be an attitude, but a practice.  If you're not practicing it, you're not living it.  Gratitude, I'm starting to understand, might be something learned just like please, thank you, walking, and flushing the toilet.  No more and no less a practice.

So I dig deep as our daughter reaches an age where I might start should-ing her into different feelings.  She should want to give!  She should gladly share!  She's had five years to practice; she should get a little more time to figure this out.

She hits "thank you" on a sixty-forty ratio, unprompted and from her own heart.  I prompt twenty percent.  A chunk get missed.

Do you know what I noticed about her recently?  Dorothy does not pass a pair of shoes, a necklace, a blouse, a hair bow she does not like.  She compliments friends and strangers alike on some interesting aspect of their person.  "I really like your hair," she will tell the woman checking us out at the grocery store.  "I really like your necklace," she says to a favorite librarian.  And these folks beam and thank her.  She gives it sincerely and they feel it truly.

So no, my child does not rush to donate her things to kids in need.  She is more likely to clutch that shoebox of underwear and crayons to her chest and shake her head, lips pursed, tears bitten back.  And she would rather not shop for someone else's Christmas present, thank-you-very-much.  But, just so you know, those are some really nice shoes you're wearing.

These are the little gifts everywhere, on the way to nowhere in particular.  Some days she will hit all her thanks, most days some will get missed.  I will do the same.  We will always be learning.

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