Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Thoughts on being "thankful," and what that really means

Every November, I see an outpouring on social media of people who choose that particular platform to think about and acknowledge the varying aspects of their lives that they appreciate. Most are thankful for family, friends, jobs, etc., but then there are those that just could not live without their double oven or mega refrigerator. That's okay too--no judgment here, many people find that they cannot express gratitude through words but have to give thanks in the way of food or crafts. Nothing wrong with appreciating the modern appliances and technology that make those little tokens of love easier to create and distribute. I, for one, will be eternally grateful if I ever end up with a bells-and-whistles dishwasher, or (more importantly) a deep, soaking bathtub with jets and aromatherapy. I could happily live in an outhouse so long as I had that and an unlimited supply of hot water.

I'm not vain, I just find happiness and gratitude in the simpler things in life. I don't need video games or a television, or even my coveted shoe collection. I love them, but I could do without all of them and really be okay with it. After years of anxiety and depression, I've realized that if I can find a place to be in body where I can simultaneously have my mind quieted and settled, then I'm really good. So I don't usually partake in the whole "30 days of things I'm thankful for" game that many play around the holidays. Kudos to those who do, because I respect so much that you recognize just how much you have in your life that is good and positive and powerful. Just not really my style.

That being said, I've been reflecting a lot over the last few days about just how precious and sweet my life is, and how grateful I am to have so much joy and love contained within it. None of it is easy, and I'm grateful for that as well. I have this paperweight that I got a few months back, that sits on my desk right in front of my computer so that I have to look at it often and remind myself to breathe.

Everything about living is hard. Marriage is hard. Even in the best of circumstances (which I feel that mine is in that category), marriage is still really challenging. It should be, otherwise you take for granted the love you have for that person, even as you grown and morph into something more. Ideally, the person you married supports that growth and goes along for the ride with you. Regardless, marriage is hard no matter what, and you have to never lose sight of the fact that you are in this together. You're a team, and nothing should take priority over that.

Finances are hard. I both love and hate working. I love the idea of getting to stay home all the time, but I just could not be a stay-at-home mom. I'd be okay for a couple of weeks, then I would get antsy, and then I would just get depressed. I love my job, and I'm grateful for that job for two reasons: 1.) because I get a sense of real accomplishment every time I pay our bills and know that I can pay those bills; and 2.) because I have the ability to make a real difference in my community through the work I do. What I do at my job really matters, and that is everything to me. It's incredibly hard and sometimes difficult to see, but it's there. That, not to mention financial security, is worth a lot, so I'm thankful for it. Don't get me wrong, I'm looking forward to maternity leave so that I can have some time off and bond with the newest member of our family, but I'm also incredibly grateful that I'm going to have a job to go back to when maternity leave is over.

Speaking of children--lord, children are HARD. I have possibly the easiest, happiest, healthiest, most well adjusted and relaxed little boy on the planet, he's been that way since birth. The kid never cried unless he was starving or having pain. He was sleeping through the night (I'm talking midnight to six a.m.) by the time he was ten weeks old. He just laughs and is independent and keeps himself entertained, and--like his father and me--is just as happy sitting quietly drawing, reading, or watching a movie as he is going out and playing in the city or with his friends. Even with that being the case, sometimes I just want to cry from how hard it is being a parent.

People forget that you aren't raising a pet or a plant or making a loaf of bread. As a parent, you are actually raising another human being, and they look to you for everything--for love, safety, comfort, understanding, and all of that, but they also watch and listen to what you think and do, and they learn from that. Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods is being released as a feature film this month, and the Witch nails it--"Careful the things you say--children will listen/Careful the things you do--children will see, and learn/Children may not obey, but children will listen/Children will look to you for which way to turn, to learn what to be./Careful before you say 'Listen to me.'/ Children will listen."

I am so very grateful for that though, because it has made me a more aware and conscientious person. I am a far better human being because of my friends, my husband, and my family, but absolutely because of my son. You can't expect your children to do things as you would have them done, or react the way you want them to. You aren't training a dog, you're growing a human, and they have a will all their own. I have to remind myself of that constantly. It's not about me. It's all about learning who they are and what they need.

I am currently 36 weeks pregnant. That's further along than I was when my son was born, and boy am I grateful for that accomplishment. I have no desire, ever again, to have to witness my newborn hooked up to monitors, with tubes coming out of his/her nose, mouth, and head, and know that there is absolutely nothing I can do except wait, cry, and hope my baby is okay. For as easy as my son is, and for as relatively easy as that pregnancy was (until his premature birth), this time around being pregnant has just SUCKED. I've been lucky to not be on bed-rest, but boy has this been difficult. I've had bleeding since 16 weeks, contractions since 18 weeks, complications from diabetes, ongoing anemia, swelling, terrible heartburn from early on, acute pain in my ribs, legs, and back, and (unlike my son, who hardly ever moved while in utero) a baby that is apparently fully intending on being a full-fledged Radio City Rockette before she gets into junior high. She also apparently doesn't care that her mother is little (5' tall, not a lot of room to grow into), and such activity is causing mom a tremendous amount of pain and difficulty breathing. I cannot wait to never be pregnant again. Ever. It is hard to be thankful for something that is causing me non-stop pain, discomfort, and deprivation.

Oh, but I am so grateful for her. I am so in love with this little hellion beating up my internal organs. I want her to be here so I can hold her in my arms and see her face and tell her how much she is loved and cherished. I can't wait to introduce her to her brother and daddy, and her family members who love her so much. I want to show her everything, and teach her about gratitude, especially after a year that has been so incredibly difficult. This little girl was not planned in the slightest. She was a direct result of the intervention of stars aligning in the universe and potentially a higher power getting involved, if such a thing exists. There is no doubt that this year has taught me a great deal about thanks and gratitude though, because I could not have survived it without that support net I have up around me. This sweet little one is a message that there is beauty and light in the world, and is a reminder that I should never forget that, no matter how much pain I'm being exposed to. You have to be thankful not only for the gifts you are given, but for the hardships as well. How else would we appreciate all the blessings we have?