It’s November, which means it’s the time of year when I notice people on Facebook doing the gratitude thing – 30 days of posting the things they’re grateful for, in the spirit of Thanksgiving. I think it’s not a bad practice, although sometimes I wonder if I should do this in January or March — typically long, draggy months full of sinus infections.
But November is a good month for gratitude. Today I am particularly aware of the small moments, the ordinary blessings, the things that require me to stop and breathe and be present in my life exactly where I am. Of course I am grateful for my children and my family and my job and all the pieces of the big picture; what shakes me out of my moods and fits of self-pity or grouchiness, though, are the moments like enjoying chocolate chip pancakes, a surprise from my health-conscious husband. Fresh coffee. An extra hour in bed. Going for a run in the cool morning air, crunching through wet leaves on the street. Nothing clears my head quite like a good run when I’d rather just stay home, and yesterday morning I realized (again — it’s a lesson I keep learning, over and over) that the things that stress me out or turn me into a cranky mama—the kitchen messes, the Legos carpeting the floor in the family room, the noise on Saturday morning, the balled-up socks that never seem to make it into the hamper–are really just reminders of things for which I am grateful. The sources are my greatest joys.
Sometimes I wonder if real gratitude comes through the windows of things that make me feel grumpy and mean — syrupy plates left too long on the kitchen counter, dirt on the floors, the never-ending laundry, or any of the things it seems like only I notice. Because it seems like the times I really get it come after a bout of feeling decidedly ungrateful.
I wasn’t remotely grateful when my family was struck down by the flu, when my daughter didn’t eat a single bite of food for two days. But I was leveled with gratitude when people who love us brought food to our door, unasked.
It’s easy to be grateful for my job when I teach three dream classes of highly motivated, engaged students. It’s such a privilege to work with them. I can ask them to do challenging things and they trust me enough to try. They’re funny and earnest and they work hard and they do everything I ask; they’re polite and cute and every other wonderful word I can think of. I want to give them a huge collective hug every single day. They are still teenagers and prone to fits of absurdity, of course, but it’s totally endearing.
It’s less easy to be grateful when one of my classes is full of kids at risk for all kinds of things. They lead lives I can’t imagine. They are on probation, and not the academic kind. They’ve been jumped into gangs at the age of 15. They live in foster care or they move back and forth between different relatives. They are high-energy and high-needs kids who need a lot of attention. They are smart, sassy, exhausting kids who frustrate and worry me. I can try to make connections with these kids, and I can try to engage them in all the ways that are supposed to work, and sometimes the kids will engage and sometimes they won’t.
But then sometimes one of these kids will admit that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian isn’t the absolute worst book he’s ever read, and he will show me a page of awkward writing even if I have to beg him to uncrumple it from the bottom of his backpack, and the next day he might bring me a warm scone from his sixth period cooking class and sort of toss it on my desk. He’ll try to act like he doesn’t care whether I eat it or not, but I see him watching, so I do. And I see him smile.
The thing is that the kids in my dream classes will be fine wherever they go, no matter who teaches them. They already have the tools and the support. It’s the swaggering boy who hates to read but tosses a scone on my desk who makes me walk to my car with a big goofy grin on my face and sing all the way to pick up my daughter.
He’ll probably make me really irritated in class tomorrow when he saunters in late without his book and proceeds to cop an attitude with me, and I will find it hard to be grateful for his class at the end of a long Monday. But I guess that’s where grace comes in and slaps me silly, because that’s exactly where I find the gratitude that sticks. It’s in the tough class of kids, in the food delivered when we’re sick and out of groceries, in the reminder that the toys and laundry and dirty socks are pieces of a much bigger, beautiful picture.
I cannot promise that I won’t ever be grumpy and stressed about these things. I know I will. I’m pretty messily human. But I hope they also make my heart a little bigger.