With the holidays coming up I think everyone gets a chance to reflect a little more on what they have to be thankful for. We do our very best to remember these things all year long, although sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of all we have in the middle of a chaotic life. Luckily, I have a few little boys who are still innocent enough to call me out when I’m not being grateful enough. I decided recently that I wanted to do a Thankful Thursdays Series. Every Thursday I’ll be writing about something I am thankful for – not things like my TV or cellphone, but smaller things that we take for granted a lot of the time.
To start off the series I want to write about an experience I had over the summer that drastically changed the way I do things, and that has helped me to be more thankful every day of my life. It was a little moment that could have easily been passed over, but thanks to my oldest son, it served instead as a very teachable moment for this busy mom.
It was the end of summer and very hot out. I had gone grocery shopping that day and it had taken longer than usual. Actually, I’m not sure why I thought it would be a quick trip. I had all three kids home from school and our pantry was bare – I had put off food shopping for as long as I could. I spent almost two hours in that store, most of it dedicated to mediating fights, begging The Bean to stay seated in the cart, and fishing boxes of fruit snacks and sugary cereals out of the shopping cart where little hands had stuck them in quietly. Next time, I’m preparing myself by looking at the Shoprite specials beforehand and planning exactly what to get, then it’ll be a much more efficient process!
The kids had decided they were starving. Not hungry, starving. They couldn’t bear another moment without food, and it couldn’t be fruit or yogurt or any of the delicious items we were already buying, it absolutely had to be lunchables. As we came up on the two hour mark I finally broke and promised to buy the lunchables if they would just stop touching everything and behave long enough for me to check out.
Getting to the car I hastily buckled them in, opened their lunchables and began loading groceries into the trunk. I heard a man talking but it was a minute before I realized he was trying to get my attention. He was standing about a parking spot away and when I focused on him he apologized for bothering me and said he didn’t want to make me uncomfortable by coming any closer. He said he was hungry and asked if I could spare any money for food.
Mentally and physically exhausted at this point, I just shook my head and replied that I had no cash on me. He thanked me and began to walk away. And that’s when my son, six years old and clearly wiser than me at this moment, held up his coveted lunchable and said “I can wait to to go home and eat, mom. Let’s give him my food”. And at that moment it was like a mental fog lifted and I could suddenly see clearly all that I had. Loading a shopping cart full of groceries into a (mostly) brand new car, my children all buckled in to their top of the line car seats, an empty Starbucks cup in the coffee holder right next to my very nice purse… in the midst of all this I had just told a man that I couldn’t come up with a few dollars to spare. I felt like the most ridiculous person on the planet.
I dashed around to the glove compartment, where I keep emergency money (again, realizing that a cup of good coffee usually qualified as an emergency in my book). I called for the man to come back. I apologized and told him I’d had a bad morning and wasn’t thinking clearly then gave him the largest bill I had. He thanked me maybe half a dozen times, but really I needed to be thanking him. And my son. They gave me a moment of clarity that afternoon, something that I had allowed myself to forget.
Here I was complaining about food shopping, when I should have instead been grateful for all I was able to buy. Just a few months prior my husband had been out of work for almost a year. We had burned through our savings and had even begun to sell anything we had of value before he was offered a wonderful job. In that time food shopping was stressful for another reason – we never knew how much longer we would be able to keep putting food on the table. And yet just a few months later, in the wake of a new job and stable finances I had quickly forgotten how lucky I was.
Here I was complaining about my children be too loud, too energetic, asking too many questions, touching too many things – that I forgot to be thankful for the three beautiful, healthy children I have. The children who make me laugh and smile with their endless energy and silly antics and who were just trying to have fun together on a summer day.
Here I was complaining about the heat, because I had to stand in it for a few moments before getting in to my air conditioned car and driving to my air conditioned home.
I was ashamed of myself and the example I had been to my children. I don’t know how long I had been like that, rushing about my day, worried only about my next chore. Suddenly I was very aware of people around me. People struggling to open a door with arms full of packages, mothers like myself toting screaming children with a desperate look on their faces, someone a few dollars short at the store checkout.
We are far from “wealthy”. Yet we live a comfortable life. We have a nice home, and our bills are paid. I don’t drive a fancy car, but I have a great one that meets our needs. I’m not drinking champagne every night, but I can afford to buy my family good food. We can afford some luxuries… smartphones, computers, memberships to museums and zoos for the boys. I feel like most of us are always searching for more, instead of enjoying what we have.
I made a promise to myself that day, to not make giving about a certain time of year, but to bring it into our every day lives. I try my best to teach the boys to be aware of everyone around them, and to reach out and help someone whenever and however they can.
I think it’s working. They hold doors for everyone. J hones in on crying babies at the store, then makes silly faces to make them laugh. They make cards for neighbors just to say “hi”. They stop to laugh at jumping squirrels, even when we’re late, or to stare at the sky when it’s blue. They talk to everyone they meet and include even the quietest children at the playground. I hope the kindness and joy they show now will be ingrained in them, the reflex that they no longer think about. I hope it shapes them into adults who remain aware of other’s around them and avoid becoming so wrapped up in their own chaotic moments they forget to appreciate what they have.
And I hope that if they ever do forget, they’ll have a six year old with them to remind them that sometimes wisdom doesn’t come with age, but rather comes from a heart that knows love.