There’s NOTHING to Eat; I’m STARVING! (No, You’re Not)

"starving" children
“starving” children

I read something once, on how to raise grateful kids. A lot of that kind of advice is lofty, vague and overwhelming, leaving me thinking I ought to be doing 1,000 hours of charity work with my kids every month, but this one was so beautifully simple:

Run out of things. 

Does this sound familiar: “Mom, there’s nothing to eat!” (whiny, tortured voice) As a responsible parent who is aware it’s important for kids to ingest food, you know this is absolutely not true. But, do you, like me, feel a twinge of guilt because you haven’t been to the grocery store in over a week and it is, in deed, slim pickins in the pantry?

Instead of feeling guilty and lazy, I’ve realized this is character building. When you are out of your kids’ favorite snack for 10 days, then you finally buy it, they are sooo excited! They are grateful, and you feel appreciated. It’s a win all around.

This can work with things other than food. One time, the overhead light in our garage went out. After about a month, Jason fixed it. Then, our youngest went into the garage, flipped the switch and said delightedly, “Hey, the light works!” Big grin on his face. I tell you, it’s no small feat to get a kid these days to appreciate working electricity.

So, the next time you run out of the food your kids think they can’t live without or they complain you haven’t fixed this or done that yet, instead of feeling guilty, feel proud. This is a “teachable moment” as they say. And, it takes way less energy than running to the store every few days and repeatedly delivering the lecture about “being grateful for what you have, because some kids don’t have food/clothes/warm houses.” (Yes, I have given this speech; no, I don’t think it’s particularly effective, except for my own venting.)

Most of the kids we know have plenty. They don’t know what it is to have food insecurity or to not know where they will sleep that night. They don’t know what it’s like not to have caregivers upon whom they can absolutely rely. And yes, it’s useful to expose your children to these things through a variety of channels, but on a simpler, everyday level, you can teach them to go without certain luxuries from time to time and spare both of you the lecture.

The Virtues of Being a Quitter

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2008, NOT snowboarding

I grew up in the era of “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” This is pretty sage advice, especially for children like me, who shied away from doing anything at which I wasn’t instantly perfect. The problem with me, the pitfall, is that when I take something to heart, I am all in. The reason I talk about balance and middle ground all the time is because I have trouble finding it. I give you exhibit A, snowboarding:

In my early 20’s I went skiing with some friends and decided to learn to snowboard. It was all the rage, and I thought I looked pretty cute with a board tucked under my arm. I took lessons for two days and stuck with this new-fangled sport for four days. For four days, I repeatedly tumbled down the mountain, cracking my head on ice, bruising my knees and cracking my tailbone. I could be found huddled on the side of the run, practically crying my head hurt so bad from being bashed on packed snow, sniffling and fishing ibuprofen out of my pocket. I listened to my instructor, I practiced, but it just wasn’t in me. To top it off, I was doing this by myself, since my friends were all already badasses at boarding, and I couldn’t keep up with them.

Finally, halfway through the fourth day, I fell shortly after stumbling off the lift. I lay there in the snow and thought, “That’s it. I am f&^%ing done.” I clipped out, stood up, tucked the board under my arm and walked down the mountain. And it was beautiful. I was enjoying myself for the first time that trip. The snow made things so silent. I could look up at the towering firs, with their dusting of snow, and it was so peaceful – quite the contrast from sliding down a mountain mostly on my head.

Several people stopped and asked if I was okay. I just smiled and said, “yes.” For the first time on that vacation, I was actually okay. It was time…well, past time, to give up snowboarding, and I finally realized it. It was a relief to admit I had failed at this thing, and I was over it.

Sometimes, giving up isn’t really failure. Sometimes, knowing when to cash in your chips is your success. There is a satisfaction in knowing you’ve done your absolute best at a task and failed anyway. You can move on, knowing you suck at that, and you never have to do it again.