Teenasia, our two-year-old foster daughter, is a good talker. While came to us at 16 months with no words at all, she now makes up for that initial silence with a steady stream of comments about the world around her. She can name body parts and household objects, family members and favorite foods. She has even started stringing words together: “Wanna pretzel, Mom” or “I do it self.”
My favorite phrase of hers, however, is “gank you.” Teenasia “ganks” us for everything. Breakfast in the morning. A drink before bed. Zipping her zipper. Blowing her nose. When her brothers hand her an out-of-reach toy or help her hold a crayon, she often responds with a hearty, “Gank you, Liam” or “Gank you, Gacob.”
Both Liam and Jacob — 5 and 8 — are reasonably polite kids and usually remember their manners, but Teenasia has brought the art of thanking to a new level and often remembers when they forget. At the risk of sounding annoyingly braggy, I will state that Teenasia may be gifted at gratitude.
Teenasia’s “ganking” has made me think about thankfulness more this Thanksgiving season than I ever have before. And in thinking about thankfulness, I’ve come to a startling discovery. Thankfulness, in its deepest form, is love. Thankfulness is what makes us strong.
The other day, I was passing out pancakes to my ravenous children. They inhaled them so quickly, I could hardly finish pouring another round on the griddle before they were ready for more. As I tossed two more pancakes onto Liam’s plate, he suddenly looked at me and said, “You always get your pancakes last, Mom. You give us ours first. That’s generous.” As I blinked my surprise, he added that “generous” was a new word for him, and wasn’t I surprised he knew it?
I was surprised he knew generous (or “gener-wuss” as he said it) but I was more surprised he noticed I got my pancakes last, and that he appreciated it.
Seeing gratitude in my children has made me think about my own gratitude in my relationship with God. Liam’s comments made me feel proud of him — a moment of, “He gets it; he’s seeing me; he’s not thinking the pancakes just materialized out of nowhere.” Could it be God has a similar reaction when I pray in a spirit of thanksgiving? I imagine God chuckling, “She finally understands this is not coincidence or her own doing, but rather my hand at work in her life.”
Thanking another person — or thanking God — requires the thanker to spend a moment outside of himself or herself. Gratitude is recognition of the other, and we cannot recognize the other if we are too focused on ourselves.
I don’t know if I demand more “pleases” or “thank you’s” out of my children than does the average mother. I do know however, that those words were drilled into me at an early age and when I became a parent myself, I passed on the tradition. It made sense to me that if being a child means you get your cereal poured for you, your shoes tied, and (if you’re lucky) cookies baked and given to you warm and gooey with a glass of cold milk, the least you can do is say “thanks.”
By teaching children to be thankful, we are giving them a lifetime gift. The exact opposite of being a thankful person is being a complainer, and as far as I can tell, complainers have awful lives. For a complainer, nothing is cooked well enough in restaurants or arranged conveniently enough in stores. Everything about their jobs, families and relationships is a difficult trial.
While we all have legitimate complaints at times, I would never want one of my children to grow up with an attitude focused on the negative. The best way to make sure my children find joy in their adult lives is to teach them to be thankful as children. Thankfulness, when learned young, becomes a habit and a vantage point.
A spirit of thankfulness will make my children stronger. They will be better able to look outside themselves and serve those people who truly do not have as much to be thankful for. They will have fuller relationships, because they will be accustomed to looking for the gift — not the flaw — in their neighbor.
In our family, only three of the five of us have mastered the “th” sound. But that will not stop us from giving thanks this year. Whether it’s Teenasia’s “ganks” or Liam’s “sanks,” we’re a pretty grateful bunch. And I’m thankful for that.