I don’t usually post the pieces I write for GGMG Mag on this blog, because they are often specific and list-based, but this one felt universal enough to share, and it fits the theme of gratitude I’m working with this season. Enjoy, and if you are a San Francisco mama, join GGMG to get pieces like this every month in print form! This one is on the back page of the current double issue, and was originally copyedited by Sallie Hess.
A woman at our church recently bought herself a pair of black-and-white flats with skulls on them – super cute and edgy. She had ordered them online, and when they came in the mail, she discovered that they were a toddler’s size 8, comically miniature. The shoes were on sale, and could not be returned. Instantly she thought of my daughter, Olive, who was about that size. She presented them to Olive during coffee hour, who took a huge breath in, her eyes like saucers. “Thank you so much! Thank you thank you thank you!” she said. We all had a good laugh at her delight. She put the shoes on right that moment, practically shaking with excitement.
From then on, every week at church, even if she wasn’t wearing them, Olive would go over to this woman and said, “Thank you for the shoes that you gave me! That was really nice.” The woman would smile and say, “You’re welcome, Olive.” She and I would share a smile over Olive’s head about how large this gift, which was originally just a mistaken order, loomed in my daughter’s mind.
At this point, Olive has grown out of the shoes, which she wore until her feet strained the toes. However, she still remembers the gift, and talks about it often. “Remember when Aaralyn’s mom gave me a pair of shoes? That was special!” This is how my daughter responds to anything anyone gives her. She remembers forever. We have boxes of hand-me-downs from her cousins, and every time she puts on a used T-shirt or set of pajamas, she reminds me, “Soraya gave this to me! That was so nice of her.”
This quirk of Olive’s makes me want to shower her with presents all the time, just to see her sweet response. But I know that part of the reason she cherishes each gift, no matter how accidental, is that we live simply, with few brand-new things. Olive is just as grateful for a little necklace made out of a ribbon, an acorn, and a piece of felt, as she is of a fancy new tutu.
I learn so much from her way of receiving. It’s great to thank people in the moment, which I always do, but it’s also nice to let that memory stay with you–to think of it each time you use that item that was gifted to you. It lets you think about your world as a myriad of gifts, to remember that we can stay connected to others through giving and receiving long after the exchange has happened.
The city I live in, San Francisco, is one of great and growing wealth, which often leads me to spend a lot of time thinking about what I don’t have. Taking a page from Olive’s book, I am able to shift my perspective, and see that my life is truly abundant, filled with things that others have bequeathed to me, and the love that those gifts represent.
I also believe that my child’s ability to be grateful is directly correlated to her capacity for compassion. When Olive gets bitten at school, and I am thrown into Protective Mama Lioness mode, she simply says, “Mama, he’s still learning.” I am daily blown away by her ability to make space for others’ shortcomings, even mine. “I forgive you, Mama,” she will say after I apologize, for something as small as accidentally stepping on her foot, or something as large as losing my temper and raising my voice sharply.
Perhaps it’s normal to be learning lessons of gratitude and compassion from your three year old, but it’s something I never expected. It makes me want to be a better person for her, to continue to give her language that expresses her ideas and feelings.
“I’m feeling a little tender,” she said a few weeks ago, when she was scared to go into her dance class and wanted to sit outside and watch with me. I smiled and let her climb into my lap, feeling grateful for her ability to express herself, even while I felt the sadness of her sentiment. Being grateful, compassionate, and expressive doesn’t mean you ignore the pain in life. It means you accept it a bit more gently, and sometimes, wade right in.