My older son recently turned 10 and was rewarded with a plentiful bounty. After the giving tide receded, I handed him a few notecards and asked him to write his thank-yous. I then steeled myself for the usual tantrum and resistance.
Here’s what he said:
He grabbed a pen and right there on my desk, started writing the notes to his friends. They were coherent, gracious and neatly scribed. He placed them in the envelopes, offered to address them and trotted down the stairs to work on the Lego Death Star he received from his grandparents.
This is not how it usually goes down.
At every previous birthday and Chanukah, I have fought with both of our boys over thank-you notes. The expression of gratitude through the written word is a most unwelcome activity, and the boys battle against it with everything in their arsenal short of a hunger strike. The entire process often takes a few days, with bargains to write two today and two the next and so on, orchestrated with much pouting and spouting and huffing and puffing. I boil on the sidelines throughout the experience, worrying about my childrens' seeming disinterest in being grateful for the multitude of blessings they have.
And so it has been for the last eight years. With gratitude as one of the guiding principles of Judaism, how could we be raising children who were kafuy tova? What were we doing wrong?
As a mom, I know I spend more time thinking about what I do wrong rather than what I do right. What sentence uttered in anger will permanently damage their self-esteem? What punishment was too severe? What extravagant gift will spoil their spirits? When it comes to teaching gratitude, are my repetitive words and thank-you note drills enough to deliver an adequate lesson?
As I re-read my son's thank-you notes before sealing and addressing the envelopes, I smiled to myself. I remembered his joy at receiving his gifts, his abundant hugs and dances, his sing-song humming as he wrote his notes. I guess the lessons sank in after all. It gives me hope that all the others (pick up that towel, practice your instrument) will, too.