This has been re-blogged from http://www.kellehampton.com/. She's amazing - check it out.
What does it mean to be thankful? If it were as easy as asking my child to scribble some words on a thank-you card, I'd stock up on stationery and tuck "grateful child" under my belt of parenting successes. Gratitude is abstract--a more difficult word to define to a child than a simple noun that accompanies a colorful picture on a flash card.
But it's important, perhaps one of the most valuable attributes you can teach your child because it has a symbiotic relationship with another emotion we all hope our children will experience...happiness.
I am happiest when I am most grateful--when I am aware of my surroundings and what exactly it is about this very moment that makes me feel content. Sending a thank-you card might encourage me to express gratitude to someone else, but really? Gratitude is a way of life rather than a lesson on a check-off list of attributes we hope our children will acquire. And the best way to teach it to your children is to live it.
If I asked Lainey to explain gratitude, she'd be stumped. But if I asked her to tell me what her favorite thing about today was, she'd pause and smile while she thought, and then she might begin by describing how cold the ocean was when she stepped past the foamy line that married sand with sea.
I'd listen while her memory unleashed, and I'd smile when it detoured to related stories of what we experienced today--how her friend made her laugh, how the watermelon at lunch tasted so sweet, how the shells we found today were prettier than usual--iridescent and fully intact.
And I think that's what gratitude really is--recognizing every bit of wonder in our surroundings, from the seagulls that swoop in the background at the beach to the extra sprinkles that are generously spooned on scoops of vanilla when we venture out for ice cream.
I used to get stressed out about teaching gratitude to my kids--lunging to whisper a loud, forced "Say THANK-YOU!" in Lainey's ear if it didn't quickly spill out of her naturally or wondering where I'd gone wrong if she cried when I said "no" to a toy. These things will always be issues we need to address because kids will be kids. However, I am realizing I worry less about these check-off-the-list responsibilities the more I address the deeper foundation of gratitude in our home--the ever present existence of the awareness of good.
One of my favorite memories of gratitude in my life is after Lainey was born. I don't think I've ever felt more lucky--more aware of every bit of good in my life. I was a mom. I had a baby. I wanted to run through a field of daisies, touch every petal, skip and leap and scream to the world "Life is Beautiful!" And being that fields of daisies are hard to come by in Naples, I'd alternately sit at night, burrowed next to Brett on the couch, with a newborn corralled between us, and we'd top each other with our statements of gratitude that would begin with the simple question, "You know what I love about right now?"
"I love her froggy legs," I'd say.
And Brett would one-up me. "I love when she wraps her fingers around my thumb. Look."
"Oh yeah? I love when she sighs real big when she sleeps," I'd follow.
"And I love when she opens her eyes and then makes that grumpy face, blinks, and closes them again."
"I like the way she smells like cookies."
"I like how shiny her hair is."
"I like that little dip above her lip."
And this would go on--too long--until we used up every beautiful observation we could make about our child and we were laughing because neither of us wanted to "lose" by not having anything else to say. That moment of recognition--of being so fully aware that we were blessed and happy--it was gratitude in its purest form. Everything seemed more vivacious, more purposeful, more pleasurable because we were so acutely aware of how happy we were.
I want these kind of moments to fill our lives. I want my kids to hear me gush about the world around me and consequently, I know I will teach them to be appreciative of the smallest things. Like blue sky painted with pink strokes in the morning. Plump, red strawberries in August. The soothing scent of fresh cotton that leaks from the dryer while towels are tumbling. The best assortment of shells that frame the shoreline.
And so a frequent question in our home, in our cars, at our dinner table, snuggled into bed at night is...
"You know what I love about right now?"
The description that follows is a thank-you card of sorts--a moment of pure gratitude. The more we practice this, the more creative Lainey gets. She searches for hidden happies like she's trying to stump me in a game of "I Spy."
"You know what I love about right now?" she repeats. And I watch her scan the room with a crooked smile, scouting out the less obvious. "I like that cloud out there that's shaped like a butterfly."
Oooohh. Good one.
"You know what I love about right now?" I continue. "I like the little barrette in your hair that pulls your bangs back and makes you look like a baby again--because I like to remember how tiny you were a long time ago."
She smiles her "thank you." I nod my "you're welcome."
Someday, my kids will perhaps understand the scope of our good fortune compared to a world where pain and suffering is a reality. I hope they will use their gratitude and recognition of our blessings to do something good--to give back, to make changes, to help. Someday soon, I will teach Lainey how to spell "thank you"--how to write it herself in a card that she'll send to grandmas and grandpas and friends when they send her gifts. Someday, I'll sit back and relax because "thank you" rolls off my girls' tongues so effortlessly in response to others' kindness.
But, for now, I will enthusiastically praise the world around me. I will sing, I will dance, I will make sure that my kids have a collection of adjectives with which to describe a blue sky they love, a sweet slice of pie they're enjoying, a hug they want to hold on to.
Sometimes "thank you" sounds like "This is delicious."
Or "that sky is breath-taking."
Or even "I love your smile."