You’re getting me at a soft moment right now. I haven’t lashed out at any neighborhood kids in the past 48 hours. I haven’t had my routine interrupted by people laying unconscious on the sidewalk. I haven’t been cut off by anyone in a Beemer with a “Baby On Board” sticker. In other words, I haven’t left the house yet today. (Chris and I decided, by the way, that I need to start a new category that chronicles life in Palo Alto. Be ready for this upcoming event!)
I have, instead, been thinking about gratitude. I mentioned here that the Polonchek clan has a dinner-time ritual of telling one another what we’re thankful for before eating. We started this because we wanted our kids to look less confused when other families bow their heads for grace. (I was also trying to sneak in my own agenda on conscientious eating by acknowledging life that’s lost when we have meat, but apparently kids can take only so many harangues about dead animals before they say, “Can you think of something new to be thankful for?”)
We wanted to have a grace-like ritual of our own and it’s become something we all look forward to. Especially Sola, who has just begun to understand the routine. She’s the one who reminds us now, as soon as I set down the food. “It’s time for thankfuls!”
“I thankful for dresses and tutus and Star Wars Legos.”
So I found myself, last night, saying something to a friend about appreciation. Let’s call her Emma. Now, I’m not sure if Emma knew what I meant when I said it, because I didn’t really know what I meant until I thought it through. But Emma and her husband have sacrificed a lot through the years to create the kind of life they want together. First of all, she’s Canadian and he’s American, so there’s the whole border-thing with the fighting, the prejudice, and the ethnic conflict.
(Seriously, it did take longer than necessary for the United States Government to decide that this quiet, creative, peaceful woman is not a threat to national security. And, P.S., SHE’S A HOTTIE.)
They have worked jobs that didn’t fulfill them. They have driven cars that rattle. Emma has had health problems that have landed her in the hospital. They have moved around two countries trying to find their place. When they finally settled in southern California, they and their three young children lived for years in houses that have the square footage of our minivan and features like a combo kitchen/bathroom. And to live in these tiny houses, her husband worked longer hours than is healthy for anyone. So when she told me last night that they found a bigger place with a gorgeous view, I was so happy for her. “You deserve it,” I said. (Like the people with a bad view deserve THAT? Sometimes I say dumb things.)
She said, in her beautifully humble way, that she can’t quite believe it yet when they pull up in front of their new rental in the hills of Malibu. “But,” she said, “We do appreciate it.”
“Well, then you have it. Appreciating it is what it’s all about.”
Now, there are entirely too many ambiguous pronouns in that statement. What do I mean by so many “its”? If I were a freshman English student, I would get a C with that writing, at best.
Here’s how I can explain what I mean, but you have to allow me to get sentimental about my kids and my husband, something I try to make a point not to do. (Is it sentimental if it’s sincere?) (And, to clarify: if you are a parent and you haven’t felt the way I’m about to describe, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU OR YOUR INSTINCTS. You are fine.)
For a long time after becoming a mother, I heard people say, “Appreciate every moment, because it goes so fast!”
Yeah, yeah. Well, it took some time to get used to the mom-thing (the boys are seven this month) and during that time, I knew I was supposed to be full of appreciation, but you can’t force these things. Now, though, I get it. Now that I’m more comfortable in my own skin and everything that skin represents, I have brilliantly gleaming moments with my children and husband, on a regular basis, when I’m present with them and know, I’m living one of the best moments of my life.
It’s the kind of moment that is shaping into a distinct memory while you’re experiencing it. Like once when I was 19 and having my first real summer out on my own. I was living on the east coast, bought my first car, had a fun job, and a new boyfriend. One weekend, this boyfriend and I were snoozing on a blanket on the beach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We didn’t know the tide was coming in and the people around us had all packed up and headed back up the beach without bothering to wake the sleeping people who, subsequently, were shocked awake by a wave crashing over them. Well, we were fully clothed and freezing, but it was a lovely moment because of the warm sun, the sticky salt, and the high only new romance gives you. While we shrieking and laughing and scrambling to collect our things, I remember knowing that I would remember that moment and it would make it onto the “life’s best” list.
And now, with this family I have—this husband and these children I’m all wrapped up in—the brilliantly gleaming moments reach inside an even deeper place, a place I didn’t know I had until I feel it ache with gratitude and appreciation and thankfuls. It swells inside me like a tide rising and suddenly I’m shocked awake by my own life, hitting me with a force that leaves me shivering in the sun.