Little Gifts

   This is the time when most adults are thinking about the upcoming holidays, and I, for one, start brooding over all the things I have to do in preparation.  
   How often do you feel, no matter how much you accomplish, that you wish you had time to do more? This is the most wonderful and the most stressful time of year for many, and it’s easy to understand how the whole point of the season can get lost in the far-too-many tasks that come with it.     
    As if that weren’t enough, parenting brings the added responsibility of trying to raise thankful kids, helping them to grow up with an appreciation of all they have and a sense of responsibility toward those who have less. Thanksgiving is a perfect holiday for reiterating this message, and though I try to make it a year-round lesson, life has a habit of getting in the way.   
   So it’s no surprise to me that this time every year, as I’m reflecting on those people and things in my life for which I am grateful, my son Jacob is instead thinking about his birthday, which is also in November. The way he sees it, he hasn’t received a gift in 11 months, so while I’m looking at the big picture, and of everything we have, Jacob is thinking about all the things he wants. He starts handing me catalogs with building sets circled, calling me to the television to show me the latest toy he’s dreaming of, and flipping through the newspaper advertisements with sales on electronic gadgets.
   Rather than dishing out a lecture about all the “stuff” we already own, I decided to examine the ways I remind myself of the things for which I am thankful. I thought maybe it would have more of an impact if I could show my kids rather than just tell them how lucky they are. I casually mentioned upcoming plans we have with some dear friends of the family. I pointed out the beautiful colors of the changing leaves in our yard. Then I took a look around my house, and realized that whenever a really touching piece of children’s artwork comes home, I hang it up. On my office wall there is a small construction paper handprint, of a hand that will never again be that small, which says, “I’m thankful for bananas.” And in my dining room is my particular favorite, a stick figure portrait of me with a purple mohawk, wearing a triangle dress and a big smile, with the caption: “One upon a time, there was a mom… who gave me pudding.”  
  These small reminders of this brief and wondrous time in my sons’ lives are keepsakes of the things I treasure most. But while this exercise had worked well for me, I still hadn’t figured out how to teach my kids the big message about what’s really important. It is so easy to get caught up in the daily minutiae of life management: school events, bills, work, grocery shopping, house maintenance, relationships, illness, music lessons and homework. Parenting is a huge job, and sometimes I wonder, with all these little details to tend to, whether I’m doing the job well or right. Then one day I found Jacob sitting at the dining room table going through yet another toy catalog. Suddenly he piped up and said, “Hey Mom. ‘If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.’” 
   “You’re right, Jacob,” I answered, wondering where he’d heard the quote by John Quincy Adams. “Do you know anyone like that?” I asked him, slyly searching for evidence of someone or something in his life he valued beyond the material.
   “Yeah, you,” he said. 
   I stopped in my tracks. “Me? Really?” I asked, baffled. All my days of shouting and lecturing filled my head. I wracked my brain in vain for a memory of some way, in the midst of all my fumblings, that I might have inspired him.
  “You help me come up with ideas for my art, and you help me study until I understand my homework,” he said.
   I realized then that, just as it is the small, special moments in my ever-hectic life as a mom for which I am truly appreciative, it is the seemingly little things I do for my kids that really matter most to them. Being thankful for family and friends, and for all they do that makes such a big difference in our days is, to me, the true meaning of this season. Right now my kids may be most thankful for toys and food. But it’s nice to know that every now and then, they really do recognize — and appreciate — the bigger picture, in their own little ways.