About a month ago Max and I started this little ritual with Fred: we would end each night telling each other what one kind thing we did for another person, and what we were thankful for that day. This was important, we thought, in a life where we are capable of giving Fred almost anything he wants and where it becomes so automatic to receive. And it is also important for me, as someone who has been prone to focus on the things I don’t have over the things that I do.
It’s a heartwarming way to end our frequently frenetic days, as we snuggle in the dark and exchange reflections. For examples of gratitude, I’d expected to hear from Fred lists of treats and goodies that he’d received during the day, like an ice cream sandwich he was allowed for dessert or the chance to play on the computer. But instead it is almost never that. Almost night after night he has surprised me:
I am thankful that you let me help you cook dinner tonight.
I am thankful that you let me do the laundry with you.
I am thankful that you and Daddy listened to me when I wanted to go to Subway for lunch.
I am thankful that you read to me and got me into bed.
I am thankful that a stranger held the door open for us at the restaurant.
Really, he has blown me away. Because he has made me question how well I really know my own child. “Me me me” is how I have heard him. After all, conversation sounds often like a litany of “I want”s: I want soda; I want a cookie; I want a new Wii game; I want more Lego…The seeming obsession with acquiring things is what prompted me to start this gratitude ritual in the first place, but it’s in our process of thanking that I have been able to see what my son really wants…
to be autonomous
to feel needed
to spend time with Mom and Dad
to be visible, to be heard, to know that his voice counts
to receive kindness
Very seldom have material things even entered into his nightly thanksgiving.
How is it that I never heard this? How is it that what I always seemed to hear instead was “I want this” and “I want that”?
Perhaps it was always there but I was simply shutting it down.
Like when we say “No” every time he asks to have dinner at MacDonald’s or to go to Chuck E. Cheese.
Or when I say, “No, let me do that; you’ll take too long/you don’t know how/you’re making a mess.”
Or when I say, “I’m too tired/too busy/not feeling well” and “I don’t have time right now/maybe later/later/no.”
Maybe he was telling me all along, but I just wasn’t listening.
But I am now, Fred…I’m listening now. And I realize that you simply want all the same things that I want too.
Are your children always wanting one thing or another? What wishes of theirs have surprised you?