Not too long ago, I gave my oldest granddaughter a “Gratitude Tree.”
It resembled a punch-out, paper doll tree and came with many little, paper green leaves, each no bigger than a thumb-print, on which notes of gratitude could be written, to remind us of what we can be thankful for each day.
I promised my granddaughter that she would earn a dollar for each “gratitude” leaf she completed. She asked if she could enlist the help of her younger sister, age 10, and if they could split the proceeds. I loved the idea of their collaboration and said, “Of course!”
I simply wanted them to stop and take a moment — a deep breath, really — to think about all they have to appreciate, even during the most daunting of times.
The Gratitude Tree sat quietly in its dark, slender box for a few months, while the two girls finished school and dealt with a some significant changes going on in their lives. I knew that asking a 12 and 10-year old to pause for a few minutes, and step off of the quickly spinning merry-go-round of everyday life was asking a lot, so I didn’t put any deadline on the activity. It was a process I wanted to last a lifetime.
“When you get to it, you get to it,” I said. Gratitude shouldn’t be forced, even though I believe it should be positively reinforced.
Finally, in the middle of the summer of 2021, they set up “The Tree” on my oldest granddaughter’s dresser. A few of the delicate, laser-cut paper branches broke off, but that didn’t deter them.
“A few of the branches broke, Grampy,” my oldest granddaughter told me when I noticed The Gratitude Tree atop her dresser. “But we did the leaves, anyway.”
I was delighted by their determination to carry out the task, and devote, even a nano-second of their precious, fleeting time to think about these things. The results were both revealing and remarkable.
They wrote on each leaf some of the obvious sources of things they were thankful for: “Sisters, (including their almost 6-year old youngest)” “Dad”, “Mom,” “Cats,” “Friends”, “Family,” “Our Planet,” “Food”, and their “Guinea Pigs,” but other entries blew me away.
“Joe Biden,” said one; “AOC,” another, harking back to their pre-COVID summer visit to AOC’s Washington, DC. Congressional Office. These girls are very aware of the world around them, and they LOVE having female she-roes.
“Pride,” one wrote; “Loyalty,” “Kindness,” “Honesty” and “Love.” “Maia,” wrote another, referring to an Oakland-raised pop star named MXMtoon, and “Liv” — a reference to the star of “High School Musical,” Olivia Rodrigo. One proudly wrote “Entrapta,” the non-binary cartoon character who also happens to be Autistic.
“Everyone is Equal” one leaf read; “Doctors,” “The Moon & the Stars,” “Water,” “Trees,” “Birds,” and “Hamilton,” read several others. Lin Manual-Miranda would be grateful to make it in such sublime company.
Rather than curse the darkness of a year of distance learning, my granddaughters gravitated to the light, expressing gratitude for, “Zoom,” “Prodigy,” “Tech,” and “I-Message.” Extraordinary. No time for negativity.
“Books,” and “School,” also made their Tree of Gratitude, as did, “Teachers,” “Dad’s Friends,” and “Bees” — even though they panic when yellow-jackets buzz too close for comfort. They get the bigger picture.
I rewarded them for their beautiful green leaves of Gratitude, but my reward, of being privy to their thoughts, and dreams and the inner workings of their hearts, and being part of their lives was much, much greater. For that, I’m grateful for being alive to watch them grow.