This ran on November 22 in the Thanksgiving edition of the Alameda Sun:
Thanks for the Ice Cream
I have been wrestling with a concept ever since my girls were old enough to talk. How do you teach them to be grateful?
Yes, today is Thanksgiving, that holy day of gratitude, the one day a year we are meant to stop and give thanks. Be grateful for what we have. I recently accepted the fact that as long as I write this column for the Family Fun Zone on the fourth Thursday of the month, I will be writing it on Thanksgiving. It appears to be one of those life lessons I need to work on.
Last year, I listed all the things I was thankful for. Yes, I am thankful for all the same things and more this year. But, what about giving these thoughts equal time the other days of the year? And, how do I get my kids to walk the earth with that attitude of gratitude that has become increasingly important to me that they show?
It’s not just their manners. The girls are good about saying, “thank you,” whether they really mean it or not. “Thanks for making my lunch, Mom.” “Thanks for buying me basketball shoes.” “Thanks for not freaking out when I brought home the D in Math.” (That was very difficult, I must admit, and I really appreciated the acknowledgment that it took restraint on my part. And, she has restored the grade since then.)
It’s taken some time for the girls to reach this point. Many years of me getting to the boiling point and really freaking out when I sensed a little bit of entitlement—that tendency to expect things outright—has served them well. But, if my kids don’t know any better, if they always get what they want when they want it, how do they know to be grateful?
I suppose I continue the learning process by telling my kids they need to be grateful. But to really drive the point home, like just about everything else, a parent quickly learns, I need to make it part of the family trickle-down effect: If you want your kids to show some gratefulness, then you must model that behavior. It can’t be a “do as I say, not what I do” situation.
It makes me think of ice cream. (I often resort to food-related analogies.) When I was very young, I remember going out for ice cream with my family. It was a big treat, getting a cone with a big dripping scoop of ice cream. We were so grateful, so happy about that one scoop. We were also told repeatedly how special the moment was, to take our time to enjoy it. My older brothers and sister nodded knowingly, this doesn’t happen often, as the younger ones licked and listened. But as times changed—we got a new refrigerator with a bigger freezer and gallons of ice cream were available and cheaper in the super market—I remember having ice cream in our freezer all the time. I can still walk into my Dad’s kitchen, open the freezer and find at least one gallon of Breyer’s waiting for the scoop. I can honestly say that I have come to expect it and don’t take an extra second to be grateful.
This abundance of stuff, not just the ice cream in Pop’s freezer, but the fact that it is so easy to get whatever it is we want on a daily basis, is overwhelming. I walked into the brand new Bed, Bath and Beyond in the evolving Alameda Towne Centre last weekend and almost had a panic attack. Yes, I am grateful that the convenience of shopping at this fabulous store has come to Alameda, with its ceiling-to-floor merchandise and hard-to-beat prices. It was difficult not to toss every pillow, place setting, iron and cute singing Christmas plush Snoopy doll into the cart and close my eyes as I opened my wallet. We only had a momentary lapse of sanity, however, and focused on what we really needed (door mats) and walked out of the store relatively unscathed.
What’s my point here? If I want my kids to live with some sense of gratitude, I need to feel it first. But, maybe, it’s time to acknowledge that it’s difficult to feel gratitude in an atmosphere of abundance, even for a Mom. Instead of demanding a sense of gratefulness and gratitude (these words are close in meaning) from my kids, I need to step back and start to experience it, one scoop at a time.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the turkey.