A Life of Giving Thanks

I think a lot of people have a whole lot to be thankful for. Actually, I think absolutely everyone I’ve ever encountered has something – if not a whole lot – to be thankful for.
I like a holiday that encourages us to ruminate on all the good, all that we have to be grateful for. Even more than that, I like a life that strives to do the same.

So, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving. And a life that mirrors it.


Plushie Hatin'

Stuffed animals are lame.

I mean, yes, they are actually unable to walk - the definition of lame. But they're also distasteful little puffs of fabric that collect dust and take up more space than they're worth.

Did I just define myself as a terrible person? Does not like stuffed animals = evil; cold-hearted.

Okay look, I don't hate all stuffed animals, just collections of them.

When I had my son, lots of people gifted him with stuffed creatures - which was fine at first. We kept them on a shelf and stared at them on occasion. He never played with them; I guess he's just not a stuffed-animal sort of kid. (Good boy that he is.) But then he continued to amass them over the years.

People gift them and try to pass them down - by the garbage sack full. No, we really do not want your collection of seven dozen stuffed animals from your childrens' childhoods. Whatever would I do with them?

Get one of these? An ugly avalanche of stuffed animal suffocation straight out of the 80's?

Or these? A strange perpendicular zoo/jail?

Please no.

So, I was all smug and proud of my plushie-hatin for the first couple of years of my son's life. Well, in a mostly polite, quiet kind of way. (Expect to my mom; she got the uncensored version of my, NO, DO NOT give my child another stuffed anything.) And this worked out pretty well for us; we kept our plushie numbers down.

Someone once gave my son, at 4-years old, a teddy bear to which he later said to me, "But Mom, how do I play with it?" ...So, he and I were pretty much on the same page.

Then.... I birthed this little girl. This little child, who as it turns out, cradles, feeds, pets, hugs, cleans, and generally loves on every small living and pretend-living creature that crosses her path. She loves animals. She loves babies. And yes, she is a first-rate plushie-lover.

Dolls and stuffed animals litter - yes litter - her small, shared bedroom. And when she goes to sleep at night, an arsenal of textiled-stuffing blankets her body; she will have it no other way. Dog, Kitty, and Bunny (pink and brown bunny, not the white one, or the pink one, or the brown with white spots one) are her Top 3. They are must in the crib. Whatever else has caught her fancy for the day will join the Top 3 in the cushy zone of privilege that is crux of her little arms.

When they're not lining her sleeping body, she pushes them around in a toy shopping cart or a stroller, stuffs them in her clothes, carries them on walks, sets them on chairs around the table or next to her in the high chair...

It's like they're taunting me. Those glass-eyed little critters sitting up tall everywhere I look, with their complacent little smiles. They won. They fill my home. They are a collective whole that could be termed a collection.

Like absolutely everything else in parenting, my plushie hatin has been ground down into a fat slice of humble pie. Anything I was successful with in the earliest years of parenting my first, my second child came along and beat me over the head with my self-congratulatory confidence. So different; they are so different.

Each child is a wholly unique creature. We should remind ourselves of this before we judge other parents based upon our own experiences.

So, you win, you lame little pieces of fluff; you win.


It Starts With Me

I have mean neighbors. Okay, maybe not outright mean, but definitely inconsiderate and unfriendly neighbors.

Our houses are about six feet apart. I’m not kidding. You could almost reach out the window and touch the side of their house. Sometimes when someone is knocking on their door, I go to ours to answer, or their phone rings and I think it’s mine. Such is our penance for living in an urban, beach city, I guess.
As you can imagine, we hear each other’s business. We affect each other’s peacefulness.

I’m sure they know our kids’ names very well, probably hearing them frequently in our raised tones of admonishment or playful excitement. I’m sure they often hear my screamer of a toddler. And, I loathe to admit, they’ve probably heard my terrible, off-key, off-tune singing from time to time. (I don’t even know what key and tune are, if I’m perfectly honest. I just know I don’t have either correct. Ever. Well...there was this one time my musically-inclined husband actually interrupted my singing to tell me that, surprisingly, I had just sung something correctly. Once in 10 years.) Right, so they hear us.

And we hear them. 

They wake us up at night with honking car alarms and slamming doors. They wake us up early in the morning talking to their dog - which they bring to relieve himself in our yard. And, for about a year, they housed a couple of unbelievably noisy critters outside our bedroom window.
I've spent a bit of time imagining a host of quasi-terrible things I would like to say and do to these people. What I actually do is stop saying hello to them when we see each other, as though this is any kind of retribution for the many hours of lost sleep they confer upon us. At first, this makes me feel better. Hah, I didn’t say “good morning;” that will really show them!

But they never say “good morning” or “hello” either, so does that mean they’re angry at us too? Or are they just unfriendly?

For a while it really bothers me. What do we do that makes us bad neighbors? In what ways are we inconsiderate? Why are they so mean?  We talk about moving. We consider swapping our office with our bedroom, on the quieter side of the house. But mostly, I just wonder what they’re thinking.

I understand there is an ungodly host of mean, strange, and sordid people habituating this earth, and living next door to rude people doesn’t even register on the radar of enduring evil.

But it does get me thinking about myself – my response to malevolence. I live under the commandment to love my neighbors as myself. Literally. My neighbors.

So I decide to start trying to think of them with as much grace and forgiveness as I can – or, between the hours of 11 PM and 7 AM, as much as I can feebly muster up.
I decide that if I would like them to be just a smidge affable and a smidge more quiet (for crying out loud), then I should be the best neighbor I can. I shout “hello” at their backs, nearly aggressively working for pleasantries. I leave banana bread on their doorstep. I move their newspapers out of their driveway when they’re away.

And what comes of my benign gestures?

Well, not much. But I am trying to change the thing that I can – myself. And actually, that makes a whole lot of difference.