November and the impending holidays always trigger more frequent conversations with my daughters about being thankful. Back when grocery stores would give away free frozen turkeys for purchases over $150 (they don’t seem to do that anymore), I would cook up two or three (because how many turkeys does a family really need???) and all the accompaniments – gravy, mashed potatoes and stuffing, plate them, drive around my neighborhood looking for homeless under overpasses or by the freeway exits and handout the plates of food the day before Thanksgiving. I did it for several years before I was married and had children, but last year my husband, David, suggested that it wasn’t the safest idea. I really hadn’t had a problem and the response from the homeless who I gave the food to was always one of surprise and gratitude with the one exception of the woman who complained (and in retrospect, rightfully so) that there was no beverage to accompany the meal. So this year, I will be content with taking my daughters to pack food boxes for a shelter to hand out, rather than doing our own makeshift meal delivery.
But I struggle with how to teach my kids about need and want, particularly when they are surrounded by messages that confuse the two. Do they need an iPhone? A flat screen in their bedroom? Real Ugg boots? No, they want those things, but they certainly don’t need them. And yet in their world – being hit by ads, tv, music lyrics and friends who have and encourage them to want the same - they believe they are deprived without them. I had to bite my tongue from snapping at Natalie when she came home and rattled off a list of things that another child at school had, wants of hers which she considered needs that I refused (and in her mind stubbornly and maliciously so) to provide her with. They included a European vacation over winter break, horseback riding lessons and a credit card at Justice. Not that I could have done any of those things right now anyway, but even if I could, I wouldn’t. Yet, her seven year, old credit card toting friend had all those things and I was the mean mommy keeping my second grader from having them. Natalie complained that we must be poor because she couldn’t have those things. That’s when I regretted that I wasn’t making them come with me to take turkey to the homeless. Then they’d see what poor really was.
It also feels like what kids think they need nowadays has changed drastically since I was young. Maybe I’m having selective memory, but I don’t think I ever coveted lines of credit in elementary school. So, I’ve ramped up the being thankful discussions and all this talk about it inspired me to come up with a small list of my own:
Here are ten things – in no particular order - that I’m thankful for beyond family, health, friends and shelter:
Bubble wrap and the fact that popping it still makes me laugh
That JJ Abrams cast black people as leads in a television drama series that isn’t about race, even if NBC was silly enough to cancel it
Playdates that don’t end in children (or parents) crying
My ten year old telling a boy who asked her, that she was too young to be anyone’s girlfriend
Having ten minutes alone in the bathroom without someone under five feet tall knocking on the door and needing me from something
That even with my bad back, I can still touch my toes without bending my knees
Feeling energized after arguing politics
Getting old enough to realize that whatever it is, isn’t as bad as it seems
Being able to appreciate (and mostly accept) myself and those around me for who we are