Wear gratitude like a cloak and
it will feed every corner of your life.
The other day I had my annual appointment with *Jennifer, my dental hygienist.
“You have two kids, right?” I say in-between fingers in my month. She’d already told me about her son who’s off to college.
“He’s always been so easy. Things always turn out for that kid.” Happy glow she tells me how once he told an elementary school teacher, “This is my favorite holiday–not because it’s Halloween but because it’s my mom’s birthday, too.”
“My youngest is 16–a strange age.” Her voice tightens. “He’s driving now and he got himself a job, but recently he said to me, ‘It’s okay if I’m a little late,’ –and I about went wild on him.”
She looks at me for confirmation and I smile.
“This generation! I can’t stand that kind of attitude–as if it’s okay to be casual about everything. That is NOT okay! People are counting on you,” she told her son.
“Then he asked me a week later if he can go to the Homecoming Dance. He was scheduled to work that night, but he says to me, ‘I can leave early,’ and I tell him ‘No. No you can’t: You made a commitment. You can’t just leave early. People are counting on you.’”
I nod sympathetically, wondering how this story is going to turn out. “At least he got himself a job,” I manage as she completes the polish.
“The next week he asks if he can take a day off work to go watch his girlfriend’s volleyball game. It’s the same conversation, and I ask him this time, ‘How long have you known about her game?’ and he says ‘A couple of weeks.'”
He was talking to his mom about this conflict the day before the volleyball game.
After each of these scenes, Jennifer’s son huffed and puffed and exited the kitchen up to his bedroom where he shut the door hard–as if she had messed up.
“I know he is testing,” she says.
A 16-year-old throwing a teenage-temper-tantrum can feel deadly–especially into the silence, but Jennifer’s son returned to the kitchen a few days later.
“Mom, I’m sorry,” he said. “I know you’re trying to help me. I know you’re trying to teach me how to do the right thing.”
Then he tells her what happened at work the night before.
“He’s a busboy, and an older couple had been sitting at their table watching people walk past them and then walk past some trash on the floor. No one picked it up. Many people simply walked past this piece of trash for the entire time they sat at their table–as if it weren’t even there, ‘But you stopped and picked it up and threw it away. Good work,’ the older man said as he slipped a five dollar bill into my son’s hand.”
Jennifer’s voice sounded stronger again as she told this part of the story. The worry was gone. She smiled. “He really is a good boy, and he’s going to be a good man.”
“That couple was helping him to see how doing the right thing can make a difference–even when you think no one is watching,” she says.
So many moms and dads are trying to support their kids to grow up as responsible young people. It’s exhausting work. It takes patience–and forgiveness. We all make mistakes, and most of us who are over 21 can look back on our teenage-selves and see how difficult we were–whatever flavor of difficult we tended toward.
Thank you, parents, for caring enough to say no to your kids sometimes.
Thank you for caring enough to make your own life harder than it would be in the moment if you told your son it IS okay to show up a few minutes late for work or it is okay to tell your boss you can’t show up because you want to go to a dance or to a friend’s game.
There are so many times kids try their parents–because isn’t that the kids’ job? They are learning. They push limits and see how far they can go. We all do.
If we learn there is no limit or the limit allows us to push through other’s comfort, dignity or privacy, these are the ways of the world we are likely to practice later in life: We learn experientially.
We learn by doing. We learn by watching and listening, and our motor-memory is powerful. We remember most our own actions, conversations, and moment-to-moment behaviors.
I want to thank Jennifer, my dental hygienist–and all of you hardworking parents.
Thank you for teaching your children both self-respect and equal respect for others.
Thank you for all you do in the interest of raising children who will contribute with love to humanity–to all of life.
Thank you for your many sacrifices.
To the rest of us who are aunties and uncles, neighbors and teachers: The village matters.
We are each responsible–like the older couple at that restaurant–for teaching the children, for supporting them to learn how to be their best selves. We teach simply by being alive–as the bus driver, waiter, cashier or clerk at the doctor’s office. We never know how or when our influence will impact a child’s life–or a parents’–especially when we think no one is watching.
Thanks to everyone for sharing stories that inspire me. Be well!
* Jennifer isn’t the real name of my dental hygienist.