With the hustle and bustle of life keeping us in an ever-increasing flurry – what needs to get done, who needs to be where – this time of year can lose a bit of its magical luster as we get older and slip into the robe of responsibility that is adulthood and parenthood.
We carry that magic around with us well after childhood. It might not always be so easy to see as we grow older and our focus finds itself divided among so many other things than we concerned ourselves with as children (though several years ago, I did spend winter wearing a Macy’s “Believe” button on my coat), but it’s still there, even if below the surface. It’s in the smiles on our faces, the kindness in our hearts and minds, and our actions to others – now, and hopefully all through the year.
So when a child, all but the age of six, starts asking questions on just how Santa Claus can do all he does, I admit, I started to wonder if the magic of the holidays season was already beginning to fade away from our household. I was feeling crushed.
When what, to our wondering eyes did appear, but a tiny little gnome, but no reindeer.
Not long after the questions began to arise from our oldest, our family returned home from an evening story time at Barnes & Noble and there, sitting in our living room, was a small gnome. With him was a note, explaining to us that some of Santa’s elves were doing reconnaissance work in the area and dropped off this little gnome, who wanted some visiting time with a good family. Unlike those elves on shelves we hear so much about, the note explained that gnomes aren’t the mischievous types or cause trouble. Instead, they just like to play hide and seek, careful not to move when we humans are around, but often enjoying finding places to hide out until we can find them.
Though his stay is only temporary until he hops a ride back to the North Pole with Santa, the little guy, whom our kids named Rex, has reinvigorated the energy and magic of the holiday in our home. Since his arrival, our kids awake, anxiously looking forward to what funny places Rex found to hide in overnight. Together, we share in the silliness, the laughs, and somehow, this little guy has very simply brought back a bit of magic to all of us, and made many of the questions of weeks past fade away.
Thanks, Rex. We owe you big time for the visit.
This morning I was standing in the middle of our living room, getting dressed for work.
It’s not the usual place I prep for the day, but everyone else in the house was still asleep, and with a nine month old with a temperamental wake-up, I didn’t feel like tempting fate and having anyone wake up that might start a domino effect of human alarms that ended with a crying baby to start off the day.
So, I was there, just Winston (one of our cats) and myself, in the silence of the early morning. I was buttoning up my shirt when my eye caught some of the baby toys on a cubed shelf we have in the living room. We bought it with the sole purpose of having a place to house toys when not in use so they weren’t constantly scattered across the living room rug.
Three fabric bins neatly placed underneath, housing everything from Fisher Price Little People to toy instruments. A shelf filled with some board books, another bin filled to the brim with Duplo Legos, the raw material that leads throughout the day to spaceships, houses, superhero headquarters, zoos, and any other creations that spring to our kids’ minds.
In the past several months, a small basket has sat on top, filled with soft blocks, indestructible books, a rattle, and a handful of toys suitable for keeping a baby’s interest, at times a wishful prospect.
The shelf itself has been there, probably a year, by my estimate, but for some reason, this particular morning, one thought hit me while I got dressed – “these things are not going to be sitting here long.”
Contents within will change, perhaps from the Fisher Price Little People and Duplo of today to action figures and building kits of tomorrow. Puzzles might give way to board games, board books to magazines. And those baby toys in the wicker basket on top will fade away from our view like a mirage that in time will make us wonder, with how quickly it changed, it was all real, and all not so long ago.
Our two and a half year old daughter has a book she adores called 5-Minute Pinkalicious Stories, filled with 12 different stories featuring her favorite animated counterpart, Pinkalicious. It was found in her Easter basket, a gift from that hippity hoppity Easter Bunny, and has become a staple of almost every evening storytime.
Twelve stories and adventures in imagination to choose from. Yet, of those twelve, we’ve probably read three. And of those three, two have been read only once. Instead, we’ve read “Pinkalicious and the Sick Day” several nights a week for the past two months. At times I feel like I could recite it in my sleep and tell you all about Pinkalicious getting chosen to be Principal for the Day before getting sick, or Principal Hart getting sick, or having pink tea with mommy while home from school. For a while I had tried to encourage, perhaps, any of the other stories inside the book collection as I grew slightly weary of this same tale over and over again, or our 5 ½ year old son growing impatient with the same story and losing focus, moving about the room with attention anywhere but the story he’s sat through as well for so many times.
I just couldn’t understand why we were doing this again, and again, and again, but I obliged and we read “Pinkalicious and the Sick Day” night after night upon her request. Then one night, I got it. It took some pointing out from Meg, but I got it.
One night, within the past week or two, our daughter insisted that she wanted to read the story to us. “Okay…” we said, agreeing but unsure of what we were in for, handing the book over to her excited little hands. “Pinkalicious and the Sick Day!” she happily shouted and then….began telling us the story. No, she wasn’t reading it, but she was telling it, following along on each page and illustration, giving us an abbreviated, but still accurate story, with complete sentences taken right off the page as had been read to her.
She was retaining, she was remembering, and she was comprehending it.
That was the power of repetition on her young mind.
A study out of the University of Sussex has shown not only the vocabulary benefits of children hearing the same stories over and over, but that they actually may receive more benefit from fewer stories on repeat than newer stories all the time.
“…each time a child hears the book they are picking up new information,” says Psychologist Dr Jessica Horst who led the study. “The first time it might just be the story, the second time they are noticing details of description, and so on. If the new word is introduced in a variety of contexts – as happened with those who were read three different stories – children are less likely to focus on the new word.”
So, the next time she wants to hear about Pinkalicious’ Sick Day for the 79th time, or once again “read it” to us, I’m all ears, because I know she is too.
About a year ago, I felt like I was living in a constant state of stress. Whether it be work, family, adult and parent responsibilities, finances, aspirations left unreached, creative pursuits, or issues with the world at large, I was a ball of worry, nerves, pressure, and so much more, clawing at the walls for a way out of this invisible box I felt I was stuck in all the time.
Every little thing would bother me, from a comment someone at work made, or a creative project taking a little longer because ‘life things’ just got in the way. Negative, negative, negative, it felt like a cloud that was engulfing me at nearly every turn.
Then, somewhere along the way, either just before or just after the birth of our third child, our second daughter six months ago, something happened. A switch felt like it got flipped.
Why did it take me so long to flip that switch? Was it the birth of our third child that was the impetus for such a shift in focus? Why didn’t it happen with the first two?
I have no idea and can’t tell you. But I can tell you that around this time, I just started looking at things…differently.
Suddenly, the things that I used to find myself so bothered by no longer really mattered. I mean, sure, they were there, they weren’t ideal, they were still annoying. But they no longer gnawed at me, they no longer stayed with me. Sure, it could be that I’m just so exhausted from three kids that I don’t have the energy to worry about other things anymore or to get upset about things that used to bug me. Maybe there’s a quotient of truth there.
But, I think most of all, I just started thinking differently. Somehow, I inadvertently shifted my mindset and instead of getting bothered or down about the things that weren’t working out, weren’t great, that I couldn’t achieve or have, I started feeling incredibly grateful for everything I did have.
And it was world changing for me.
I was looking at the success of other people and I wasn’t feeling joy. Instead it was making me feel bad, as if their achievements were a reflection on what I hadn’t done or hadn’t accomplished. It’s not, but for whatever reason, that’s how I was looking at it. And that view led to toxic feelings, feelings of doubt, of depression, unnecessary comparisons instead of feeling happy that someone was experiencing something good.
It’s like somewhere along the way in our development, this need to have things, more things, or this thought process that when someone gets something we didn’t, that it’s our own faults, our failure. So instead of feeling happiness for someone else, we default to a comparison that we missed out on something, that we’re not ‘worthy’ of it and then start questioning why, then start getting angry, or sad. And that leaves us disillusioned.
Suddenly, after far too long of dealing with the clouds of depression, angst, anger, sadness, self doubt that came about when things went south somewhere in life, I found myself stopping for a moment or two to mentally face these thoughts, these feelings, and start asking myself – “what are you happy to have?”
My family, my friends, a job, a roof over my head, clothes on my back.
I started to look around me every morning. The frustration of the cats waking me at half hour intervals from 3 am onward turned into (most mornings. I’m human, I falter) an appreciation for the love these furry little guys show us each and every day from the moment we took them in and welcomed them to our family. Gratefulness that it was our growing cat population in our house that awoke some paternal instinct in me long before we welcomed home any of our human children.
Ah, our children. How quickly life has changed in the 8 years Meg and I have been married. Sometimes that change can make us feel like nothing gets accomplished because we’re constantly chasing after or tending to one of the kids. But to imagine our lives without any one of them, chaos included, is unfathomable. There will come a time when they’ll be older, when they’ll have their own lives, and we’ll be wishing for the chaos, the sleepless nights and those times when sure, nothing around the house felt like it got done, but man, weren’t those kids fun? The laughter, the joy, the wonder, and the sheer love that each one brings in their own way, from the way they look at you when they first see you in the morning, to that hug at the end of the night. There has been nothing in our lives like it and it has been nothing short of a blessing to be a parent and be there beside them as they grow. And right there with me amid that tornado trio of kids is a beautiful, wonderful, funny, incredibly intelligent wife who is a true partner in all of this craziness of life, through thick, thin, and everything in between.
Friendships. Many of us are all going through the same things in life. Or maybe we’re not, but being around your friends, hearing about their struggles, sharing in the joy of their triumphs, and vice versa is important. Being around them, just knowing you’re not alone, even if no one has all the answers, makes the speed bumps in life a little easier to hit, and the good times even better.
A home in a neighborhood with good people who talk to each other, who look out for each other. A backyard with wildlife, where I can see birds come to the feeder every morning, squirrels doing acrobatics for seeds, or sometimes even a deer wandering through the yard on their way to and from the nearby woods. Space for our children to run, to play, to be kids.
A job that, sure, may not always be ideal, but then very few are. It may not be what I set out to do/want to do with the rest of my life (and it may not end up being, but who knows?), but it’s allowed me many things – the opportunity to go back to school, new professional skills to learn, more time with my kids than other jobs have, allowed me to make my student loan payments on time, to pay our bills, and afford to live when so many other people struggle just to make those ends meet and often can not.
This appreciation and gratitude for all that I’ve realized I have has for the most part made me forget what I didn’t, or what I thought I didn’t and thought I needed.
Several studies link gratitude to lower levels of depression, less toxic emotions like resentment and envy and can actually create higher levels of self esteem.
Over time, I found myself more and more looking for the bright side of situations. When someone came to me with something that might have been a downer to me last year, instead of reveling in what made it bad news, I find myself trying to look for the opportunity, or the silver lining within.
And when I started looking at the positives of situations, of my own life, I just found myself generally happier overall. No one expects you (or me) to be a ray of sunshine 24/7. We’re only human. But I’m a much happier human now.
It didn’t happen right away, but in time with a little work and a little focus, I’ve found that practicing the art of appreciation as gratitude has changed not only my outlook, but my life.
Love the life you’re with, find the reasons to love your life, the pieces of it, even in times of turmoil that can remind you what parts you’d never change, the parts that other people would love to have, and it can make a big difference. At least it did for me.
I was driving our son to school recently when, staring out the back window at the houses and businesses passing us by, he suddenly asked why one of the kids at school didn’t want to be his friend.
“I say hello and I’m nice to them, but they tell me they don’t want to be my friend.”
This was not a conversation I expected to get into within the time frame of a car ride to school. But, there we were. We were doing this, whether I was ready or not, so I had to wing it.
I said, “Buddy, not everybody has to like you. Or us. You are a wonderful person. You are kind. You are smart. You are funny, and you have the biggest heart of anyone I know. You are all those things. But even with all that, there are still going to be people you come across who just, no matter how nice you try to be, will not be the same. It doesn’t mean you should stop being who you are, please don’t do that, but just remember that there are going to be people who just don’t want to be friends. With you. With me. With anyone. You have to keep being you and let the people who don’t want to be a part of that go.”
It’s okay when people don’t click together. You are choosing who you spend your time with, so why spend the time and energy on someone who takes all your energy, your support, and your air?
Even adults struggle with this. How many of us deal with toxic people in our lives, or our workplace, who no matter how nice you try to be, no matter how much you reach out, you’re constantly left feeling drained and defeated as if you did something wrong. We grown-ups are not immune to these feelings either. Even we need to learn to continue on our way and not expend all we have to give for nothing but drainage in return.
It was only within a few days later that he told us that he saw this schoolmate and cheerfully greeted them with a “Good morning!” to receive a mean-spirited “Duh!” in response. I asked him what happened after that, to which he said “I just smiled and kept on going my own way.”
Keep on your own way. It’s the only way that’s right for you.