Summertime is here, along with its pervasive supply of Popsicles—in our house, at least. One afternoon, the girls asked for their favorite ice-cold snack. “Please, please, please, Mom?”
It takes the girls roughly 10 minutes to finish a Popsicle, which translates into 10 minutes’ peace for me. Not quite eternity, but still somewhat heavenly for a mom (right, moms?). Thus, I said yes to Popsicles.
Grace chose strawberry, Anna lime. Lime is my personal favorite, summer’s virgin version of a frozen margarita. But I wasn’t sure Anna would like it.
“I love green, Mom,” my 3-year-old assured me.
“Hmmm, how about red this time?”
“I love green!”
Five seconds later… “Mom, green is bleh. How about red?”
I helped myself to the lime Popsicle, and gave Anna strawberry, like Grace…who had something to say, right away.
Lime is my personal favorite, summer’s virgin version of a frozen margarita.
“That isn’t fair,” Grace protested. “Anna got two Popsicles. That means I get another one, too.”
I willed myself to be patient. “No…”
“Red is better than green,” Anna announced, helpfully.
Grace glared at Anna. “You are so frustrating.”
Anna slurped on her red. “Don’t freak out,” she replied.
(My daughters spend so much time with me, they’ve adopted my predominant figures of speech as their own.)
“Grace.” I sighed. “Anna made a mistake…”
“She always makes a mistake.”
“No, I don’t!”
I wish I could share, at this point in the story, that the three of us, my dear daughters and I, sat down together on the front porch. Engaged in a no-raised-voices conversation about gratitude, and getting along with your sister, as an early-evening June breeze tousled our trio of ponytails. What happened in real life, however, is…
“Life isn’t fair, Grace,” I snapped. “You have a Popsicle; be happy with what you have. Did you even say, ‘Thank you,’ for it? Worry about yourself. It’s time to stop being jealous of your sister.”
My 6-year-old pouted.
Anna, meanwhile, kept slurping. “Yeah, Grace.”
“And you…” I frowned at Anna. “No more green Popsicles for you. And you need to remember to say, ‘Thank you, too.”
The girls called a (somewhat grudging) truce.
As we grow up, somewhere along the road, we do learn the futility—the uselessness, the emptiness—in trying to keep track that the count is “fair.” One for you, one for me. Another one for you, another one for me. Life doesn’t work that way.
Sometimes you’re ahead; sometimes you’re not. Once in a while there’s a tie, but much of the time, there’s a winner…and there’s the rest of us. Or, we “win” in different ways, at different times. Everyone has their own vision of a blue ribbon, their own personal picture of that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
…somewhere along the road, we do learn the futility—the uselessness, the emptiness—in trying to keep track that the count is “fair.”
Stanton and I recently received the latest issue of our college’s alumni magazine. Now, there’s a lesson in humility. Flip to the back of your alumni magazine, where your classmates can send in news from their postgraduation journeys, and compare their biographical highlights to your own. (I never do this, of course. 😉 )
There are people my age, people I know, who have become law partners and head coaches, who have made Forbes lists, who have fostered children and fought for social justice and made big differences in the world…already. Moments like these, I sigh with face-saving relief that I didn’t email in a note about my newest self-published e-book release. Because when you start comparing one set of circumstances to another, finding parallels—and remembering what matters—become difficult.
Which is why the most fulfilling course of action is to focus on your life. What you’re holding in your hands. This is what I believe, anyway, and it’s what I hope to impart to my children.
A quote I’ve always liked is this one, from Willie Nelson: “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” I don’t think you need to be a hippie, country-music fan or churchgoer to appreciate the truth in his message. The message of looking at the good in your life, really seeing it, and feeling gratitude.
I understand, though, if it may take a source more credible than Willie Nelson to make an impression. So consider this fact from Harvard Medical School: “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.” The University of California at Berkeley recommends writing in a gratitude journal three times weekly, as a practicable guide to cultivating gratitude in your life.
Count your blessings, not other kids’ Popsicles—the kindergarten version of this life lesson, perhaps.
The message of looking at the good in your life, really seeing it, and feeling gratitude.
Grace just finished up kindergarten. She loved kindergarten, and I’m deeply grateful for that, for her wonderful teacher and school. I’ve shared before that one of my favorite books is All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum.
My undergraduate and graduate degrees in English obliged me to read all the classics, to discover and appreciate everyone and everything from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Toni Morrison. Still, I’m not ashamed to admit that Robert Fulghum’s little book of essays is one of the few pieces of literature I turn to (return to) time and again. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten strikes a chord with me.
During one season in his life, Robert Fulghum was a minister. He writes, “I am sometimes amazed at what we did not fully grasp in kindergarten…I was always taken aback when someone came to me and said, ‘I’ve just come from the doctor, and he told me I have only a limited time to live'” (page 6).
He goes on to recall, “I was tempted to shout, ‘What? You didn’t know…Where were you the week in kindergarten when you got the little cup with the cotton and water and seed? Life happened—remember? A plant grew up and the roots grew down…a few days later the plant was dead…Life is short. Were you asleep that week or home sick or what?'”
Life is short. Time is limited. The little cup, the water and the seed.
Anna actually got her cup, water and seed this past school year too…in preschool.
From a very young age, we all understand that our time here has an expiration date. We don’t know when, exactly. But we know life is not for forever.
Why would we ever choose to spend…the precious time we have…being jealous of someone else? When right in front of us, more often than not, we have abundance upon abundance upon abundance?
The past couple of years, I’ve been lucky to be able to spend some good time with my grandmother. She turned 90 earlier this month, as I shared last time. My Grandma lives in a personal-care facility now. Do you know what I’ve noticed, friends, when I’ve gone to visit my Grandma there?
I’ve noticed that pictures—lots and lots of pictures—adorn the walls and decorate the desktops of my Grandma’s room, and others’ rooms too. Pictures of family and friends. And I’ve noticed that that is what perk up nonagenarians like my Grandma: visits from those people whose pictures provide their current wall decor.
That’s what these older folks spend a lot of their time—their very precious, limited time—talking about too. Chitchat about family and friends is right up there with the day’s menu (everyone likes the baked ziti) and upcoming bingo night.
…we have abundance upon abundance upon abundance…
I’m speaking from my narrow personal experience, of course. I am fairly certain, though, that around age 90, the majority of people don’t bring up childhood Popsicle squabbles; the size of their once-upon-a-time paychecks, cars and homes; and the highlights they sent in to their alma maters.
Time to stop being jealous. Time to remember what matters.
And beyond that…why not be downright happy for other people, when they have good news to share? When they accomplish something they’ve worked hard for, something they’re proud of? Or when they make a mistake, and they get the gift of a second chance?
Who among us made all the good things in their life happen completely on their own?
Can we all acknowledge that, at one time or another, each of us accepted a helping hand (or two)? And maybe we even owe some of our good fortune to a random roll of the dice—a lucky break or total fluke? And possibly, just possibly, we find ourselves sitting where we are today by the grace of God and nothing more—nothing we can take any credit for.
Stop being jealous. Remember what matters. Be happy for others.
Lend a hand if you can.
Photo credit: Pixabay
Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.