This morning it was one of “those” days. You know the ones — where everything seems to be going wrong, falling, slipping, clock not going off, jelly stain on your shirt button, and it’s not even 9 a.m.?
But this time it wasn’t me or Superman or one of the teens experiencing it.
It was our little guy, Nate.
“It’s going to be a terrible day,” he was saying to me, sighing deeply.
He’d forgotten his math worksheet and was nervous about not bringing it in completed today, then he forgot his present for his gift exchange and didn’t remember until he’d walked halfway to school already. Then his shoe laces were giving him trouble, so he kept stopping to retie them, and ended up snapping one at the quick — and he had P.E.
He finally called me, exasperated, on his cell phone:
“Mom? I forgot my present on the couch, and my shoe is broken, and I have P.E., and I’m walking home right now. I hope you’re there to give me ride, but if you’re not … [deep little-boy sigh] … I just don’t know what I’ll do …”
I could hear the anxiety vibrating in his vocal chords. He sounded like he was going to cry.
He walked home, and I told him yes, I’d bring him to school. He switched shoes, got his present. I realized I’d forgotten his teacher Christmas gift, too (whew!), so I hunted that down and gave it to him, too. I was in the middle of getting ready for work, but I threw on a pair of jeans and left the house with my hair sopping wet.
As we were driving, he uttered that sad little phrase: “It’s going to be a terrible day. …”
I looked over at him. He looked dejected. It was his last day of school before the 2-week break, and he wasn’t enjoying it in the least. He was suddenly looking much older — sliding out of little-kid world where homework didn’t matter as much, and your P.E. grade didn’t matter, and you didn’t mind going to the attendance office if you arrived after the Pledge of Allegiance. Instead, he was sliding into 5th grade world, where you didn’t want to let people down, and you didn’t want your teacher to get mad at you, and you knew these things were all your responsibility. It’s a world where you suddenly have a concept of what a “bad day” is.
“But think of all the good things,” I mentioned tentatively.
He glanced at me, unconvinced.
I have a few things I want to give my kids as they grow, and one of them is peace. Another is happiness. And the third — the one that seems to lead to the other two — is gratitude.
“First of all,” I began, “at least you realized you left your gift at home. Think what would have happened if you’d gotten all the way to school and remembered then. You wouldn’t have been able to participate in the gift exchange at all.”
He thought about that for a second and then looked out the window. “Yeah, I guess so …”
“That’s ‘A.’ ‘B’ is that I was home. Think what would have happened if I’d already left for work. You would have come home to an empty house and would have had to run all the way back to school.”
“Yeah …” He was nodding now, pulling his backpack closer to his chest.
“‘C’ — You have a peanut butter sandwich today.”
“Yes!” He smiled at that. He loves his peanut butter sandwiches. The school doesn’t like parents to send anything with peanuts, so I send them only rarely. He lives on turkey and ham, which he doesn’t like as much, but a peanut-butter-sandwich day is always a winner.
“And ‘D’,” he joined in, excited now, “we only have an hour of school work, then we get to have a party.”
I nodded. “Exactly.”
We each looked out the window for awhile, waited for the crossing guard. I pointed out that “E” had to be what a gorgeous day it was. I routinely give thanks to God every morning when I pull out in my car and see our beautiful palm trees against the blue sky. For people like our family, who thrive in sunshine, it’s a wonderful thing to be grateful for.
He smiled when I pointed out that “F” might be that he got to wear shorts today, in the middle of December.
But then his face crumpled into worry again. “But I’ve never been this late. What if I have to go get my card at the attendance office?”
I shrugged. “It’s okay. Almost every kid is late at least once or twice in a school year. You get a pass for messing up sometimes. Everyone messes up once or twice. Think of the good things. You’re only a few minutes late, not a half hour.”
He nodded tentatively.
We pulled in to the back parking area, and he zipped up his backpack with everything stuffed inside: his gift for the gift exchange, his teacher gift, his Santa hat, his lunch with the peanut butter sandwich. …
He looked back at me and sighed deeply.
“You’re going to have a GOOD day, Nate,” I said in my most emphatic voice. “Think of all the things that are good about it. It’s going to be fun.”
He finally smiled and nodded back. “Okay.” Then he ran up the stairs to cross the field to school. …
I hope he does have a good day. I think he will. Focusing on the good things in life, instead of all the bad, can work wonders. I do it every day as I’m driving to work, and our entire family says prayers of gratitude every night before dinner (“Thank you for bringing our family together; thank you for this wonderful food; thank you for our health, our safety. …”).
Gratitude, I believe, is everything. It’s a straight road to happiness.