This has long been my favorite time of year: changing seasons, sweater weather and Thanksgiving. I’ve always tried to teach my children to be grateful for the good in their lives, and while we try to appreciate it every day, Thanksgiving is the one time of year when we don’t need reminding.
A recent conversation with my son, though, has made me rethink the “good” part of the equation.
At the start of the school year, he began feeling overwhelming pressure with school work, and when my husband and I finally sat down to talk about it, the truth was startling. He confessed that he thought he needed to always get good—if not perfect—grades because that’s what we expected, because we often commented on his good grades and how proud we are of him for achieving them.
It seems we inadvertently set up a cycle that is not only unsustainable but unrealistic, because as we know, no one is perfect. I blushingly recall the time I fell on my infant daughter and broke her leg. Or the time, in the midst of a particularly competitive family ball game, when I whipped a whiffle ball at my young son’s forehead. Or the time I scraped the front end of my brand-new car against the wall of a fast-food drive-through . . . which was bad on multiple levels.
The truth is, I am grateful that our children are smart, but not for the reasons they think. I’m glad they’re smart because they won’t need my help with homework. It really is that simple. That’s all I meant all those years. Not, “Great job! Keep doing it because my love for you depends upon your academic performance!” but rather, “Phew!”
I need to set the record straight for these kids, to dispel the notion that anything less than perfection is unacceptable. So in addition to the obvious—the family, our health, the pets, the home, my Jeep—I’m also grateful for the pain, the failures, the bad choices and the bad luck along the way. Maybe not jump-for-joy, “Oh, thank you! Thank you!” grateful, but grateful nevertheless.
For instance, in a way, I’m thankful to be an alcoholic. Yes, there was much suffering during my drinking years, and a lot of shame, and I would certainly like to remember the 1980s. But after 20-plus years sober, I know now that I had to go through what I went through to be where I’m at. And where I’m at is a pretty good place.
I’m thankful that I naively let the cats ruin my husband’s leather furniture, because ultimately, later . . . much, much later . . . it helped us all define what’s important. And for some of us, it’s still the cats.
I’m thankful for menopause, because even though it involves daily hot flashes, irritability, complete inability to remember simple words and names, bad skin, joint pain, stray eyebrow hairs on my chin, no libido and weight gain, those pesky five days a month of. . . wait. That’s not working out in my favor at all, is it? Take that one off the list.
I’m thankful for the arguments over lessons and practice and the cost through the years for iTunes and iPods, because it has cemented my children’s love of music. Oh, sure, I was a little hurt when the boy bought noise-canceling headphones and I realized I was the noise being canceled, but you take the good with the bad, am I right?
And oddly enough, I’m thankful for my depression. Knowing myself as I do, it’s what prompted me, when my youngest child started all-day school, to find a reason to get out of bed every day. I started teaching, which was never even on my radar, and while I may never lose the depression, I found a calling.
The relief on my son’s face when we convinced him that our love was unconditional was heartbreaking, and I’m hoping it’s a look I’ll never have to see again. I’m hoping that both kids know now that life is made of the good and the bad, and that yes, I am thankful for both. Without both, I wouldn’t be right here, right now, with them . . . the loves of my life, for whom I give thanks, truly, every single day.
Maggie Lamond Simone is an award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.