The boy who was thankful: No greater gift than acceptance

As Thanksgiving looms, a mom notices the flood of gratitude posts on Facebook and finds one of her sons giving thanks for the simplest gift.

Larry Crowe/AP
A Thanksgiving turkey is seen in this 2009 photo.

Before the Thanksgiving meal is even prepared, many people have been rehashing and simmering over personal catalogues of their blessings online, giving thanks for everything from life-altering accomplishments to having five minutes of uninterrupted silence with a cup of tea while the kids are engaged in a quiet, non-destructive pursuit.

As a mom, I think it’s as important to have the “thanks” in Thanksgiving as it is to put “Christ” into Christmas, so the holiday becomes something more valuable to our family than conspicuous consumption.

In our family, the Thanksgiving tradition is to go around the dinner table and each one of us names something for which we were grateful. Over the past 20 years the answers varied from the politically correct responses like “I’m grateful for my Mom and Papa” to “I’m thankful you didn’t make the Brussels sprouts you threatened to do if we didn’t eat our salads last week.” 

However, for many, it’s become the fashion to start publicly counting your blessings online months in advance of the holiday.

Perhaps one of the best-known social media challenges is the 100 Days of Gratitude Challenge that has, for the second time, become popular as a Facebook post in my new feed, started by a woman named Marianne who runs the website Miracle Mama. 

“September 23rd, 2014 marks the first day of my 100-day gratitude challenge. As I mentioned in a previous post [click here], I’m repeating the challenge I gave to myself four years ago in 2010. I’m closing the year with 100 days of focused gratitude practice,” she posted on her website

I’ve seen this post rolling around Facebook since the Fall with some posts being spiritually impressive as the person speaks each day of random acts of kindness, helping others, and faith.

One or two I’ve seen caught my eye because they were funny, saying the person was grateful the store was out of cheesecake because therein lay the salvation of a diet.

Sadly, a few used the challenge as an excuse to spend 100 days making seemingly endless humble brags about how grateful the parent is for their child’s perfect grades, hair, sports record, etc.

I didn’t join in, partly because I felt that my list would not be very earth shattering, since it comprises some of the smallest things.

Most days, I tend to be grateful when disasters are smaller than I imagined they might become. On other days, my gratitude can be immense for having enough scoops of coffee left in the bag at 6 a.m. to launch my day.

Recently I got to see how at least two of my sons have found a place of understated and all-encompassing gratitude for the simple good in their life.

Last weekend we hosted my youngest son’s 11th  birthday party. He finally had kids come to his birthday party, after several long years of being bullied at school and not easily accepted by other kids, due in part to personality quirks tied to being diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome.

In the past it’s been a struggle to get more than one or two children from his classes to come to the party.

This year, all but one child, who had an out-of-town engagement, arrived at the party.

He got more presents than he did in all the 11 years of parties combined in that one day.

At one point my son Quin opened a card with an iTunes card in it and puzzled over it because he doesn’t own an iPod.

Quin politely thanked the boy while the others mocked the gift.

The giver grew red-faced with mortification shouting, “Don’t judge me! My mom picked it out!”

To the rescue (and my great shock) came my son Avery, 15, saying, “Hey you guys, chill. There are no bad birthday presents. It’s free stuff. Everybody’s always happy to get free stuff!”

All the boys bowed to the teenage wisdom on display before them and before long they were all patting the giver on the back for his mother’s coolness.

After everyone had gone home and my house and yard looked like the path Sherman marched to the sea, I asked Quin what he was grateful for that day as I ticked down the list of party games, cake, and the pile of gifts.

“That everybody came to my birthday,” he said. “I’m just thankful that they liked me enough to be with me.” 

This is the moment I will keep in mind as stress over the holiday shopping and fretting what to buy for everyone on my list creeps into my thinking, even before the turkey grows cold on Thanksgiving.

There is nothing for sale on Black Friday or beyond that anyone could be more grateful to receive than knowing that people like you enough to want to be around you.

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