Friday, October 30, 2009

Monster Maze

Maryn made a homemade board game called Monster Maze. She brought it to me to play. I won in 2 moves because she put in a card that said "Go to the End". Then she told me I was a sore loser and a cheater. And she laughed, "My own game backfired in my face! I'll play it with Alexa tomorrow."

As soon as Maryn and I were done with our game, Ashlyn came in with her own game. She had copied Maryn's, but added some embellishments. One thing I found funny was the fact that one of the only words she knows how to spell is LOVE, so all of the little signs and extra spaces only said LOVE and were subject to her interpretation. She even had cards with number son them and little pieces of paper with dots on them for tokens.

We played, and she won. Then she turns to me and smiles. "Mommy, aren't you proud of me? I did this all by myself!"

I am darling. I am.

A return to gratitude

So here is a column I wrote for the magazine. I put a shorter version into the I guess you could say this is the uncut version.

I actually don’t believe that any of us have a problem saying “Thank You”. At least, not if we were raised right (Thank you mom !). We thank the clerk at the store, the server who brings us our drinks, and even the officer who gives us a ticket…quite liberally and without thought. Its kind of a way to end a conversation in some instances. We use it so much, in fact, the sometimes the words “Thank You” become nearly meaningless, or even worse, sarcastic.

You’d think with all of this thanking going on all of the time, that, generally speaking, we would all be more aware of the things we are thankful for. We should be happy with everything we have. But when I look around me; at perfect strangers, acquaintances, friends and even in my own home (and, truth be told, in my own mirror), I see a marked lack of happiness. We always seem to want more. Someone else always has what we feel we deserve. And sometimes it feels like we simply don’t have enough.

Today was like that for me. It was, to say the least, a very frustrating day. There were money issues, home issues, work issues, kid issues and even issues with people I barely know but seem to deeply dislike me for reasons beyond my control. And all these issues led me to a higher stress level that eventually made me say and do things I normally would not do and later regretted. In my state of stress and woe (some of it self –inflicted I admit), I became bitter. I was suddenly acutely aware of everything it seemed my life lacked, things that had become apparent during my sojourn in pity -ville.

It was during this reminisce of the misfortunate that another thought found its way into my mind. I began thinking of others. And I thought of their problems, and their worries; a friend who, like me, is unmarried and never has been, another who is struggling with wanting a child so badly and not being to have one, another who is fighting cancer, another who is watching her toddler battle leukemia, another whose husband was jobless and another who is caring for aging and ill parents on her own. I knew, in that moment, that if everyone I knew gathered around me and threw their problems into a pile. And we were all permitted to take out whichever ones we would rather have…I think I’d take mine back.

With that, the thought process changed. Instead of focusing on what I didn’t have, I began to recall all that I did have despite the problems I was facing. We have food and shelter. I have a loving extended family that watches over and cares for me no matter how desperate things get. I have 4 beautiful and somewhat obedient and helpful children who are healthy and active. I, myself, have not been sick for over a year. I began to recognize more things that enriched my existence ; I was blessed with fabulous friendships that have made my life truly complete, I can play the piano and sing and have the opportunities to share those talents with others in many circumstances. As the thoughts spiraled onward and upward, I could suddenly see the simple things that made my life great; warm blankets, warm clothing, good food, good books (I can read! Isn’t that an extraordinary blessing in itself!), education…the list began to get larger and larger until it overflowed.

And then I could feel it.

I didn’t want to say thank you, it was more than that. I could feel it pushing on my chest trying to escape…a bright, sweet feeling that made me feel peaceful and filled me with hope. It was gratitude.

And there it is, our biggest chance for hope in an increasingly desperate world; finding a way to recognize and be happy with what we have, instead of having what we think we want. A return to gratitude.

3 Sweet yet Simple ways to bring gratitude back into your family’s life:

1) Count Your Blessings Chain: We have a tradition before Thanksgiving. I cut strips of autumn colored cardstock or construction paper, and we sit as a family and name every single blessing we can. Be very specific! We are sure to name each other individually (of course) and then go from there. I accept answers from my kids like Dolls and video games, because I believe it helps them appreciate having these things at all. We try to name as many things as possible and put each blessing onto one of the strips of paper. We curve each one into a circle, connecting them together with a stapler (tape and glues also work, but I’m lazy and a stapler works faster). We then hang the chain in our kitchen to remind us of all that we have to be grateful for as the holidays approach. I think out longest one was 135 links long! Talk about a lot to be thankful for!

2) “Thankfuls” Journal: Shortly after my husband died, I felt the need to try and reconnect with my kids on a daily basis since the toils of just trying to take care of them physically seemed to consume me some days. I bought an inexpensive journal (notebook or diary at the dollar store), and each night we take turns listing 3 things that we were thankful for (or that made us happy) today. No matter how bad the day seemed, I would always help my children come up with at least something they could see as positive in their day…even if it was getting to the bus on time or having an extra cookie.

3) Service: Nothing helps you see how blessed you are then to go and help someone who is less fortunate then yourself. There are two ways to do this. The first is pretty obvious. Depending on the ages of your family, find somewhere to go and help out; a soup kitchen or food pantry, the nursing home, a hospital. Seeing others who face misfortune every day can be very eye opening. Another way is to be an example everyday of being considerate of others. I watched my own father, only a few years ago, stop in a parking lot to help a young mother trying to life heavy packages into the back of a truck. She would grab one, climb in, shuffle back on her knees to set the box down…you get the picture. My father, without a second thought, went over and offered to hand her the packages. He didn’t know her, he never saw her again…but he recognized her misfortune in that moment and did something simple to ease it.