Welcome back from your trip! We’re taking a long flight in a few months, so I’ll have to pull this post back out when I’m ready to start my battle plan for the trip!
I need to apologize in advance for today’s letter. I have a feeling it may be a bit rambley, partially because I feel so passionate about this topic and partially because I have so many experiences and thoughts I want to synthesize into something cohesive. Actually it will be a good writing exercise; I’ll try and organize it all into something readable :).
A couple weeks ago I took Bugaboo to Old Navy in search of new swim suit. Before we even got out of the car, I turned around, looked her in the eyes and said, “All we’re getting today is a new swim suit. Please don’t ask for anything else. I’m not buying you ANYTHING but a swim suit. Do you understand?” She nodded. “I need to hear you say it,” I added.
“I understand Mama,” she said.
We weren’t in that store three minutes before she started asking for every pink shirt, flowered dress and sparkly bangles she could see. I mostly ignored her requests with a dismissive, “Remember what I said in the car…”. We picked out a swim suit and headed for the checkout. That’s when she spotted a pink, light-up, Hello Kitty ball; It was love at first sight. She just HAD to have it. After several failed attempts at persuading me to buy it, she held it to her chest, got a sour look and screeched, “But I want it! It’s not fair!”
I was annoyed and embarrassed, but I gave her the line I always give her, “We don’t complain about what we don’t have; we’re grateful for what we do have,” and kept us moving to the check out. (Where, by the way, we were met with shelf after shelf of trinkets, toys, and candy. Really it is a massive trap for a poor four-year old. But I digress.) She glared at me and silently returned the ball to the bin. She didn’t say another word about it, and by the time we got home the ball was long forgotten.
But not by me. I hate an entitlement attitude; it is one of my biggest pet peeves. That “I deserve” attitude used to drive me crazy with my students, and now I was starting to see it in my own kid. Earlier this year I heard a man from Kenya speak about his experience in the States. He outlined some of the more striking differences between Kenya and the USA; things we wouldn’t be surprised to hear– wealth, health care, housing, social services– but then he said something that did surprise me. I can’t exactly quote him, but paraphrased it went something like this: What Americans should really be grateful for is the sense of order you have in the States. Everything here is so organized. Your traffic is so easy. People stop at red lights and for pedestrians; people follow traffic laws. And at a restaurant you have this sign that says Please Wait to Be Seated. We don’t have that sign in Kenya. You go in and you just take a seat, and the next guy has to fend for himself; he has to hope no one pushes ahead. Here you take a number at the bakery or the license office, and you don’t have to fight to get to the counter. The order makes life so much easier.
Until that moment I’d never thought to be happy or grateful for a red light or an orderly line! I mean at worst I think of them as a nuisance, and at best they are just part of our collective culture. Things we’re, dare I say it, entitled to. It got me thinking; I’m indignant when someone cuts me in line, but am I grateful when they don’t? Should I be. Should I be grateful for people acting the “way they should”, for life going the way “it should”? At first I decided no, no one deserves my gratitude for behaving inside the norm, but the more I thought about it the more I wondered if I would be happier if I focused on being more grateful for the little things.
Not long before I heard that man speak I watched a video about a women who, over the course of a year, wrote down 1000 things she was grateful for (I don’t remember the name of the women or the video). When I saw it I kinda rolled my eyes; it felt a little contrived and ingenuine, but after hearing the Kenyan man speak, I decided to give it a try and start my own gratitude journal– just to see if it would make me feel happier, more satisfied. It took some getting used to, and even now, as I read back through some of my entries I can’t help thinking they sound cheesy or trite, (And in true Natalie fashion, many of them are wordy!) but they are honest. As I slow down and focus on small, I’m realizing how much difference these things make in my life and day, and more importantly, taking a moment to be conscious and thankful of them really does lift my whole mood. My book is filled with graditudes like these:
- “Coffee turned tan with cream”
- “How beautiful a dandelion is to Bug”
- “The rumble of an airplane on an otherwise quite, sunny summer afternoon.” (that one just makes me blush! 🙂 )
Anyway I’ve been keeping my gratitude journal for a while, so after the Old Navy incident I thought it might be useful if Bugaboo started one too. My thought is that by teaching her to appreciate all the little things we have, material and otherwise, we can start to replace any ugly entitlement she feels with appreciation. At first the process was a little tricky; Bug didn’t really want to do it because, after the first few entries, she found it hard to think of things; usually she would just look around the room and spot something to say she was thankful for:
- “My new Hello Kitty swim suit. It’s a two piece!”
- “My dolls because they are fun to play with.”
So I coached her to think of other things, to notice and appreciate the little things we usually just take for granted. I prompted her to think of things we hear or smell or feel inside. It was tricky at first, but then she got the hang of it.
- “When my brother bangs the spoon on the pot because I like the way that sound feels in my belly.”
- “Jumping off the diving board.”
- “Slobbery, nice baby kisses.”
And then, slowly she started enjoying it. All on her own she started asking to add gratitudes to the book, and they became more abstract:
- “That Daddy had a safe ride home on the bus”
- “The sun warmed up the wading pool”
- “How beautiful my room is when it is all cleaned up”
My hope, as we move forward, is that both of us will learn to live more appreciative lives. I hope that regardless of what we have or get, we learn to be content and grateful for all the little things– right down to the long, orderly line at the DMV.