I’ve been musing a lot about gratitude. That seems reasonable given that Thanksgiving and its rowdy holiday cousins have come knocking on the door with armfuls of fun things to eat, drink, and do. So to get myself in the spirit of the season, I decided to make a gratitude list. I began: someone with a whistle to blow; brave civil servants speaking truth to power; ibuprofen; naps; socks (once they’re on); a good book; that first sip of morning coffee; seat warmers in the car. And that’s when it hit me: I was compiling a senior citizen’s gratitude list. I’m getting old. Sigh.
Fortunately, the next day was Grandparents Day at the elementary school where two of our five munchkins (another is on the way, thank you) attend. It gets a little complicated in our family, especially when we take the annual family photo with three grandfathers and one grandmother, but that’s just us. When it came time to go to the kids’ classrooms, we divided and conquered: two grandfathers went off to kindergarten while my wife and I headed to first grade.
A lot of first grade takes place on the floor these days—my wife handled the descent with ease but that’s a long way down and a long way back up for me. There were math problems, word puzzles, and coloring projects—gently supervised chaos. We met our grandkids’ teachers and classmates, and the grandparents of our grandkids’ friends. There we all were, proudly sitting in this boat together, just like the kids.
We watched our grandson solve math problems by counting on his fingers in a manner that resembled a Mandarin using an abacus. We admired his porto-cubist artwork and suddenly I remembered something Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he has grown up.” On another wall, there was his Newberry Prize-worthy illustrated story about designing and building a hamster cage although, as far as I know, there was not then—nor ever will be—a hamster in his house. We thought maybe the story was his way of processing the new crib that had just been assembled at home, the one that will soon cradle a new baby sister.
The chairs in the classroom were small; really small. My knees were becoming locked to my chest. Just when I was about to faint, the teacher rang a bell and said it was time to go to the gym for assembly. I found a seat—a real seat!—between my wife and the two other grandfathers in our clan who had just graduated from kindergarten. My limbs tingled as blood started to recirculate through my extremities. When the kids came marching in, cell phones popped up like weeds after a thunderstorm, recording every precious wave and shy smile as well as the heads of every other doting grandparent in the room who was doing exactly the same thing. Then we recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang “My Country ’Tis of Thee” before sitting back to watch a variety show of cute poems and songs, including “Shoo Fly Don’t Bother Me” (now an ear worm stuck in my head) and the “Turkey Trot Blues,” rhythmically banged out gamelan-style on a combination of xylophones and glockenspiels. I turned to my wife and mouthed, “Wow!”
The day’s duty done, we all headed off to a nearby restaurant for lunch, joined there by two great grand-parents. Suddenly, I didn’t feel quite so old. I’d pinched an outline drawing of a turkey from school and some cut-out paper feathers on which the kids were to write the names of things for which they were grateful. I was supposed to then glue the feathers onto the turkey but that seemed like a lot of work so I decided to veer a little off course. Instead, I asked the kids to just tell me their gratitudes, the feathers, as it were, on their Thanksgiving turkey. Here’s the list they came up with:
The beach, the ocean, waves, sand, sun. Mommy and Daddy, my brother, my sister, our baby brother, the new baby sister in Mommy’s tummy; our dog; hockey and ice-skating; Christmas; my bike; our bunkbeds; the moon; friends; candy; food; climbing trees; playing tag; a tire-swing; Halloween; lights in the night. Love.
You heard me: a six-year-old and a four-year-old actually said, “Love.” From the mouths of babes…
So what’s on your list?
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” was released in June 2018. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com
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