Last night, I took my kids to see the movie Dolphin Tale. If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s based on the true story of Winter, a bottle-nosed dolphin who was rescued in Florida after becoming trapped in a crab line. The movie is really good and the story is uplifting; it’s the perfect family film. (Also, Harry Connick, Jr. is in it.) My daughter and I cried through at least a quarter of the movie and, afterward, I was relieved that I had insisted on Dolphin Tale over the more scentillating (as in “aroma scope”) Spy Kids 4. I had chosen a movie that had touched us all and delivered a message of perseverance, hope, and gratitude. Score!
I expected the ride home to be full of meaningful conversation with my two kids about how we could apply some of those principles in our own lives. How, in the face of adversity, we could realize that we actually have it pretty good and that we can soldier on just like that brave little dolphin. It wasn’t two minutes, though, before my daughter was asking for a new watch and a Big Mac. My son added, apropos of nothing, “I hope we win the lottery this weekend!”
Okay. First of all, the last time I checked, we can’t win the lottery. I guess maybe I might win the lottery, except that I don’t usually play. Secondly, what about being happy with what we have? Didn’t they get the message?!
But, after becoming noticeably frustrated, i.e. shaming the kids into appreciating the Yogurt Mountain treats I had bought them pre-movie, I realized that gratitude, like every other virtue, begins at home. Do they see me thanking my boyfriend for our steadfast, sweet and loyal puppy? Or, do they hear me complaining loudly about the 1.5 million pairs of shoes that he’s eaten? (The puppy, not the boyfriend.) Which do I pay more attention to on their report cards: the five As or the one C? When I am folding piles of laundry, do I do it happily, thankful that we have nice clothes and a washer and dryer that work, or am I grumbling under my breath? If I would just pay better attention, I’d see that I have a chance to show them gratitude in action. These parent/child relationships are really more symbiotic than they appear, aren’t they?
So, because I’m a slow learner and- as my friend Carl used to say- a quick forgetter, I’m going to revert to using a simple exercise every morning to keep gratitude fresh in my mind: a gratitude list. One day, when my son was feeling sad, I explained how I used to jot down three to five things that I was thankful for each day. After I’d reflected on all the gifts I’d been given (some material, but mostly not), I always felt lighter and happier.
“Do you still do that?” my son had asked.
So, today, I’m doing it. I’m even doing it publicly, but I hope I can remember to keep up the practice daily, at home with the kids, so that they will see that there are tools we can use tolearn gratitude; and happiness, charity, hopefullness, self-discipline. I could go on ad infinitum. I don’t want them to grow up thinking that those are all just states of being because sometimes it’s awfully hard to just be. Most of the time, we have to act!
- My job and my awesome co-workers
- The good health that my family and I are currently experiencing
- Our damn sweet, gentle dog
- Harry Connick, Jr.
(This post was originally published on the Charleston Daily Mail’s Mommyhood blog.)