Suburban Snapshots

The Art of Appreciation

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Possibly the highest item on my list of parenting goals is to not raise an asshole. I know we have years left to work on that, but right now my almost-6-year-old seems to be dabbling in douchebaggery at a reality television level.

Lately it seems like nothing is good enough, fun enough, delicious enough, anything enough. If we spend 5 hours at the McDonald's Playspace — which we won't because while I believe in vaccinations I also understand that bleach on a dirty mop doesn't actually sterilize a fresh trail of vomit — what she'll remember on the drive home is that I didn't get her an ice cream sundae.

Yesterday on our ride to school, one of Anna's best friends gave her a necklace she'd made on that loom everyone got their kids for Christmas and immediately regretted. "Ellie, you didn't use all the colors I like," was the first thing out of her mouth. I wondered whether my mom would have just slammed on the brakes and let the back of her seat hit me in the face or if she'd have slapped me herself.

I had neither a free hand or the ability to stop short for effect since only one of the children in the back seat belonged to me. I wasn't even sure if reprimanding her on the spot was appropriate but I was incensed by her total lack of graciousness. Where is my sweet, thoughtful daughter? Who is that little shit in my back seat? "Anna you tell Ellie that bracelet is a wonderful gift and you thank her for all her hard work right this second," I said with no space between my words or my teeth.

I have a high parental tolerance; I can take whining, sobbing, nagging, I can take little girls arguing over who gets to be Elsa this time or shrieking at invented ghosts. I've lived through colic and poop strikes, weeks of wasted dinners, tantrums in Target, I voluntarily sang fake ethnic songs at a mommy-and-me music class for shit's sake, but I cannot tolerate ingratitude.

This lesson is an important one, and I don't want her to be appreciative only for the sake of the other person or just because I tell her to. Understanding the value of a gesture, the connection created by even the smallest token from one friend to another, beyond even the common decency of appreciation are the bonds we make in giving.

Giving and getting gratitude I think is one of the great joys of interacting with other humans. She must know this, she's forever making cards and little gifts for people with so much care. When I asked her at Christmas to draw something for the mailman she wrote, "I love you because you bring the mail." It was a bit over the top but clearly she's not a sociopath. She can be so thoughtful.

If you do it right, there's equal joy on either side of gratitude. I think sometimes she gets it, but maybe at 5 I'm expecting too much.

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