Storefront Seasonal Gratitude

This whole “season of gratitude” business has been on my mind a lot lately.  The weather is cooling, and the seasonal displays in storefronts no longer feature beach chairs or bathing suits, but instead pumpkins, hay bales, and, the ever-strange display platform for decorative gourds, the cornucopia.  Yes, there are holidays streaking across the calendar towards us.  Home Depot even has Christmas Trees out.  Seriously.  If the stores had their way, it seems, there would be a season for everything and no one would ever be able to keep up with what was next.

But indeed, with the weather still decent, there seems to have been a steady theme to my stream of consciousness looping back to “Aren’t we lucky,” and “I feel so blessed.”

Gratitude washes over me.

Junior on his first day of school, 2015

Junior on his first day of school, 2015

This is a busy time of year for us, which I believe is no different than for most other families.  There is all the back-to-school excitement, we are trying to lap up the last drops of summer, fall activities have started up, and my oldest baby is having yet another birthday. (Didn’t he JUST have one last year??)

Through all this, there are of course all the big things to be grateful for . . . we are healthy, we are together, we are content.  And there are smaller things . . . my cup of tea while I’m writing after the kids are asleep, the way the sun dances in pink streaks across the river as we dart home near sunset, the funny way The Lady prances around the backyard on her toes when the boys throw a ball for her.

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Little Bear digging for clams during a low tide sunset.

It seems strange that there is a “season” for gratitude when, at least for me, the swells of gratitude seem to flow like the tide all year round, sometimes ebbing, sometimes flooding, but always in motion.  Storefronts would like you to think, ’tis the season to be thankful!  But isn’t it always?

The gratitude washes over me.

Everyday Gratitude

Really, though, this year the gratitude I’m feeling is deeper.  It is too easy to lose track of what makes us so lucky.  It is too easy to forget that our everyday experiences are a product of privilege not afforded to many.  Someone commented on my blog a while back about people who cannot play outside because they do not have access to clean, safe, green spaces.

And it is true.  We are so blessed to live where we do, to step outside every day and worry only about whether we’ve put on enough layers, or enough sunscreen, or enough bug spray.  It is a sad reality that for some people, playing outside is not so carefree.

The gratitude washes over me.

Before we married, The Captain and I lived on a sailboat and ran study abroad programs for college students.  Over the course of our travels, we often saw deep poverty.  In Morocco there were children begging for the raincoat off my back.  In Borneo, children splashed in a dirt-brown river, using an old rotten refrigerator as a boat.  In St Lucia, a disabled teen paddled out in a dugout log to sell his homemade jewelry, his livelihood.  It was so embarrassingly easy for us to offer material help, and sail off to our next destination feeling as though we had done something altruistic and “good,” when in fact our gifts wouldn’t last long at all.

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One thing that always stood out to me was the gratitude of the children who had so little.  It seemed like the happiest children were the ones who had the least.  They were content to play with sticks and dirt for hours, so the offer of a bottle of bubbles to blow, or a plastic shovel to dig with, was akin to the most grand of gifts and set their faces alight with awe and appreciation.  They had so little that they simply could not ignore what they did have.  They took nothing for granted.

The gratitude washes over me.

Small Stuff Gratitude

We can learn something from such a simple concept, that those who have the least are often the most aware of what they do have.  It’s a sad reality when privilege becomes our day-to-day norm and we forget that it’s a privilege at all.

In fact, it’s even easier to forget that this poverty doesn’t just exist abroad.  There are people living in the depths of poverty everywhere.  And there are lots of people right here in our own country who don’t have safe places to explore, who can’t go outside without fear.  This year, I am trying to be grateful for even the smallest things.

IMG_1394Today was again unseasonably warm, and I took Junior and Little Bear for a hike through a reservation to a scenic overlook where we could look across the ocean towards where The Captain’s tugboat must have been.  The hike started on a narrow trail through the woods, then widened, and finally came out to a gigantic lawn looking south across the water and towards the city.

IMG_1440The boys ran ahead, the way they do when in a large open space, as though the intrinsic nature of children (and dogs too, for that matter) is to fill such vast openness with their joy for it.  They climbed an apple tree and argued over which dot on the distant horizon might be daddy’s boat.  They ate a snack on the rocks by the water, and looked in the tide pools for minnows and crabs.  It was such a simple, perfect morning, and again I found my thinking on loop, “We are so blessed, we are so blessed, we are so blessed.”

And the gratitude washes over me.

Hard Work Gratitude

Of course, then it was time to leave.

Leaving such a place is always so much harder than arriving.  The hike back to the car was about a mile.  Little Bear wanted to be carried, so I strapped on the Ergo and snuggled him between my shoulder blades.  Junior did not want to carry his backpack, but he did not want me to carry it either.  In fact, the only thing he seemed to want at first was to writhe around on the grass and rub his tears in the dirt.  It was not pretty.  I eventually got him moving with the promise of applesauce, but he insisted on reading his map while we walked, so he kept tripping and scraping his knees.

It took us a while, and many many rounds of “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad,” before we got back to the parking lot.  But we made it.  I was feeling exhausted and rushed, because it was lunch time and then naptime, and we were suddenly running late for both.  As we crossed the parking lot, a car pulled in next to ours.  A family got out with a boy who looked about the same age as Junior and Little Bear.

“Have a great walk,” I wished them, as we skulked past, Junior with scraped knees and tear streaked cheeks, Little Bear swinging his water bottle against my shoulder, gently showering me each time.  We must have looked a mess.

“It’s a beautiful day for it!” they smiled.  They were exuding joy at being where we were, at beginning their walk on such a beautiful day to such a beautiful place.  I had to smile, (though I suspected that their walk would probably end similarly to ours) because it’s important to think that though it’s sometimes hard work, we are blessed just to be here to put the work in, and to reap the benefits of its rewards.

The gratitude washes over me.

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The boys enjoying the vast, open space.

Glorious nap time!

Glorious nap time!

A Mother’s Prayer

The boys are napping now.  The sun is out, though it was not forecast to be, and there is a gentle warm breeze rustling the curtains.  It could be any day now that the weather turns, and we are back to bundling on layers of warmth before heading outside.  Every day now is a gift.

I shut my eyes and feel the gratitude wash over me like a mother’s prayer.  We are so blessed.  Thank you for this beautiful day.  Thank you for these beautiful children.  We feel so safe.  We feel so loved.  Thank you, thank you.

We don’t need a storefront season to remind us – we are so blessed.

And the gratitude washes over me.