My children were the ones who finally taught me gratitude.
There is a way this is essay is supposed to go. I’m supposed to say that the moment I held them in my arms, I was overcome with the miracle of life and realized all of the blessings that have made their way into my home. I should say that whenever I see their darling, preciously precocious smiles I am filled with nothing but love and thanksgiving for the joy of motherhood. I was supposed to realize what happy and healthy children they are and subsequently realized how lucky I am.
That’s what should have happened. But that’s not exactly what did.
Gratitude has never been a virtue that comes especially easy to me. I don’t think it is because I am inherently un-grateful, but rather I have a tendency towards pessimistic realism. When I am told I should be thankful for my health, I remember I do struggle with a chronic illness. When I think about how we are fortunate for our financial well-being, I find myself annoyed at the size of the monthly checks we write to pay off our student debt. For every blessing, I always seem to find an equal and opposite burden. It isn’t all bad, I think, to own and recognize our troubles. But often I have felt my tendency to balance fortunes with struggles has kept me from focusing more fully on the good in my world.
But not anymore. My kids have fixed that.
How, you wonder? If not by simply being shiny lights of joy in my life? (They certainly are, that’s just not what did it.)
No. It was the whining.
The incessant, unrelenting whining. The high pitched, guttural noise that toddlers have so perfected that it may as well be the anthem of their age group. “I want juice, not milk! I want to go to the park! Not that park! The other park! I don’t want to go to bed. My brother is touching me!”
Don’t get me wrong. They aren’t inherently bratty or probably any worse that any other person. They are just at peak whining stage. Babies have even more frequent complaints, they are just non-verbal and because they’ve got nothing but screams, we tend to take them seriously. I’m assuming as they become teenagers there will still be lots of whining, but at least it will be silent eye rolling and not about the color of the cup I just handed them. And really, adults whine just as much. It’s just about the weather or the election so we feel it’s justified.
The toddler whining though seems to be tuned to a pitch that dogs can hear and that makes mothers wish they had the ability to teleport themselves to beaches far, far away. I hand my kids a cracker, a slice of apple, the crayon they asked for, and they instantly dissolve into a puddle of tears that I have to mop up and resist the urge to wring into a bucket and leave it there until their dad comes home.
And then I feel it bubbling up. The words handed down from annoyed parent to dismissive child,
“There are children who would give anything to eat this dinner!”
They stare at me like I’m crazy, because obviously I am. “Some kid really wants to eat this Pinterest fail casserole? Okay, sure mom. It ain’t me though.”
And while my admonishment falls on ears that can’t hear me over their own whining, I hear myself. Yes, this dinner that I ruined and honestly doesn’t taste that great is something to be grateful for. At least I can put food, or something resembling that, on their plates.
Or having to wear something I don’t like. This very situation has rendered many a toddler apoplectic, and in doing so causes many a parent to clench their teeth and utter, “This is a perfectly fine shirt you are lucky to own!” Which I then have to say to myself when I look into my own closet and think, “Ugh! I have nothing to wear!”
They don’t want to walk to the park, and I am reminded we live in a safe neighborhood. They want Papa to read them bedtime stories instead of me, making sure to point out “We like him better!” and I am happy they have close relationships with their family. They want to watch cartoons again and I am amazed by the technology available to us today. They scream about getting flu shots, and I am thrilled to live in a place where vaccines are readily available. They want to go outside to play and I am thankful for their adventurous spirits, even if I can’t indulge them right at that moment.
The whining, which I am sure they will grow out of eventually, has grated on my nerves until I am more frazzled than Ms. Frizzle by the end of the day. But it also serves as reminder to me to be grateful. My kids don’t see all of the blessings they have yet – it takes a little time and perspective for that to develop. All of those mild inconveniences we complain so frequently about tend to be blessings well disguised.
They might not have learned hoe to be grateful yet, but they are still pretty good teachers.