Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a weird holiday.

The story goes like this. A group of people left their homes and got on a boat to brave the open sea in order to find religious freedom. On the way, a few of them died, a few caught diseases (and then died later) and everyone had a generally miserable time. Then they made it to Plymouth Rock and had to fend for themselves against the animals and elements in wholly unfamiliar territory. Somewhere along the line, we’re told, the people who had been living there all along welcomed the newcomers, showed them how to grow maize and gave them other hints for staying alive in their new environment. Oh, and everybody got together on Thursday to kill a turkey, eat themselves into food comas and watch the Detroit Lions lose a bunch of football.

I’m not sure how much I buy of the Thanksgiving story that we were all told in grade school. I believe there was a group of pilgrims who sailed to North America on a ship called the Mayflower. I believe that there was a tribe of people already living here and that they interacted with said pilgrims. I’m even willing to believe that most of the interactions were fairly peaceful, though I haven’t quite decided if I think that peace came before or after one of the tribe members was killed by a pilgrim’s musket shot.1 What I’m not willing to believe is that a group of people who had been living in one place for hundreds of years saw a new group of people show up one day and automatically offered them food and shelter. I’m sorry if that sounds overly cynical, but I think the alternative sounds too rosy to be believed.

If we put aside the flaws in the retelling of history that we’ve received, though, we’re still left with a holiday that is supposed to be about identifying the parts of our lives that make us happy and trying not to take them for granted. We should probably be doing this every day, in theory, but in the midst of jobs, errands and the demands of parenting, it’s understandable that we sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture. In honor of the upcoming holiday, I figured I would devote this week’s post to five things for which I’m thankful. Some of the entries in the list are to be expected, but I tried to focus on some more specific and non-traditional ways of looking at things.

1. My wife’s organizational skills

I once watched a video of Mark Gungor, a pastor who does a lot of work regarding relationships and marriages, explaining the differences between men’s and women’s brains and how their thought processes work. I recommend watching the video, especially since I won’t explain it as well, but the bottom line for me was the difference between the brain’s resting states. A man’s brain at rest is essentially empty. It wakes up in order to access information or to complete a task but when the task is finished, it goes back to its blank state. A woman’s brain, though, is constantly moving, thinking about work, upcoming events, children, errands and anything else that one might think of. Trudy and I fit these descriptions perfectly. Trudy’s brain is constantly juggling scheduling issues, shopping lists, activity ideas, family obligations and anything else that a person would have to think about on a given day. I put information in my calendar or my address book or my to-do list and then promptly forget about it because I assume I’ll look at the list later on and remember.2 I’m pretty sure I’m on top of things more than I’m not, but Trudy is the master.

2. Toddler enthusiasm

Kids can be really easily influenced. They learn, as they get older, but when they’re young, you can pretty much get them to do anything you want as long as you frame it the right way. My father has often told stories about how, when I was little, all it took was a little inflection to get me excited about something. His eyes would go wide and he would ask me, “Hey, Aaron, you want to go to Walgreens?” My face would light up and I would respond with an emphatic “Yeah!” Just this past weekend, Trudy and I got Eitan really amped up about going food shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, one of the most awful activities ever imagined. And don’t even get me started about how excited my youngest brother used to get when his older siblings told him it would be fun for him to pretend to be a dog and play “Fetch.”

3. Sesame Street

Let me start by saying that I’m not a big fan of using television as a babysitting service. Kids, especially toddlers, need face to face interaction in order to stimulate language and social skills development. That being said, we all know that parents need breaks and parents need to get things done. When Eitan first wakes up in the morning, he’s not quite ready to play or eat or actually do anything (just like most people when they first wake up). So I have no problem turning on an episode of Sesame Street to occupy him for a little while if it means I can get ready for work in peace. Plus, there have been times when Eitan has made associations with letters and numbers, so apparently he’s learning from what he’s watching.3

4. Toddler language

Speaking of language development, there are few things funnier than watching kids learning to use their words. I don’t necessarily mean when young children start echoing the curse words they hear their parents using, although those cases are often hilarious.4 I’m talking about when kids realize that they can use words to express everything they see or to negotiate to get what they want. Last weekend, for instance, Eitan asked me if he could watch one of his shows on television and, when I said no, he changed his tactic and asked if we could watch football instead. I still said no, but I’ll admit I thought about it for a minute.

5. Everything else

I’m thankful for: my wife, our son, our relatives and our friends. Everyone’s health. My home. My education. Gainful employment. My coworkers. The dad blogger community. Chicago sports, including two Stanley Cups in four years, six NBA titles under His Airness, a Super Bowl appearance in the 2006 season and a promising future for the “Cuuuu-BEES!” I’m thankful for this blog, for the people it’s allowed me to meet and the ability to create something for Eitan to look back on when he’s older. And I’m thankful for you, for reading it.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

 


1. I’m not saying it was on purpose, I’m just saying a show of force might have been a motivating factor for the tribe members to help out their new neighbors. Also, I’m avoiding using words like “Indians” or “Native Americans” on purpose. I realize it can be a little cumbersome, but it has to do with avoiding the use of imperialist language while respecting a person’s right to identify themselves as they choose, so I’m leaving it out altogether.

2. This, by the way, is fairly typical of men’s brains. Watch the video.

3. Also, I love Cookie Monster. The contrarian in me always felt drawn to Oscar, but as I’ve actually started listening to more of the characters’ lines, I’ve come to appreciate Cookie Monster’s adult-targeted comments much more.

4. When someone I know (who will remain nameless for her mother’s sake more than anything) was little, she saw her mom drop her keys and asked, “Shit, Mommy?” And, when they were in the car and someone cut them off, the young girl yelled from her car seat, “Beep beep, schmuck!” Meanwhile, Trudy and I have reached the point where anytime I mutter the name Jesus, Eitan answers, “Christ!”

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What, Me Worry?

I’m worried about my son.

He’s fine, first of all. He’s totally healthy, hitting all his developmental milestones on time and growing up way too fast. He’s not violent or oppositional or hard to manage. He throws tantrums here and there when he gets upset, just like any typical two-year-old would, but even those instances are just because he’s still learning how to cope with the tragedies of not getting his way.

 

 

And yet, even though everything is pretty much going the way it’s supposed to, I’m worried.

I worry about what it’s going to be like when Eitan finishes preschool and starts going to a regular school. I hear stories about kids getting assigned three hours of homework every night – in elementary school! – and I shudder. I speak to middle school students who tell me about navigating the usual social pressures of puberty and first relationships, except that their struggles are plastered all over Facebook and Instagram for the entire world to see. I read about high school students who are forced to become captains of sports teams and do volunteer work and learn a musical instrument and somehow fit in five hours of homework every night if they are to have any hope of being considered for the college of their choice.

I worry about the fact that kids today are forced to contend with so many different messages about the kinds of people they’re supposed to be that they can’t think straight. Kids need to be smart and athletic and good-looking and get good grades all at the same time. They need to be everything because, if they don’t, they’re considered failures. No wonder cases of depression and substance abuse in teens and adolescents have skyrocketed in recent years. I get stressed just thinking about having to deal with one of those challenges, let alone all of them at once.

And for what?

I’ve heard the familiar refrains about living in the world of “What if?” What if I don’t get an A? What if I don’t get into the right high school? What if I can’t get into college? What if I can’t get a job? They are really just covers for the true underlying question:

What if I’m not good enough?

We all ask that question every day, whether we realize it or not. The only thing anyone is really searching for is the knowledge that they’re doing okay and that they’re on the right track. We’re all just looking for approval, whether it’s from our parents, our spouses, our co-workers, friends or even our children. We all want to know, “If I’m not good enough, will anyone still care about me? Will anyone still love me if I don’t measure up?” Hopefully, we have someone who can reassure us that we’re valued, no matter what mistakes we make.

But as hard as it might be for adults to feel like they’ve found someone to answer that question in the affirmative for them, it’s even harder for kids. That’s why they pore over textbooks until their eyes glaze over and pour the rest of their energy into extra-curricular activities. They freak out over every quiz and test because everything holds so much weight. When their report cards and progress reports show all A’s, they feel more relief than pride. Good grades don’t just mean that they’re still on the track for success in terms of college and a good job; good grades mean that they’re still worthy of love.

I know that my wife and I hold more influence than anyone else over the ways that Eitan will approach his schoolwork and the ideas he’ll have about his future as he grows up. I know that it is up to us to continue reminding him of the importance of staying true to himself and the fact that we will both be there for him, no matter what happens. But even though I know how much power my wife and I have in helping him to develop coping skills for handling these pressures, I can’t help wondering if the weights of school, college and employment prospects will become too overwhelming for him. I tell myself that he will be fine; his mother and I certainly turned out pretty well, so I would imagine that he will too. We can pass on the wisdom that we’ve gained through the years to prepare him for the different obstacles he is about to face and continue to be his cheerleaders as he grows. And yet, even though I know all that…

I worry.