On June 23, 2019 I began a new practice with my kids. It was something I had done in my journals for over 20 years. It was also something I started with them years prior in our car rides to and from school, usually after school. One day, I decided we would convert our meaningful car talks into gratitude boards. I wanted them to truly understand and make a habit out of being able to see the tiniest light among all the darkness that sometimes surrounds us in some of our days. It was one thing talking about it in the car, but it was another to put it on paper. Similar to when I used to go on my early morning runs and I would see those tiny yet sparkling spots in the darkness of the morning night. Several times I cried underneath those sparkles that illuminated me as I ran. Some people choose to only see the darkness of the sky yet others choose to seek the minuscule amount of light the stars can provide. I am the latter and I wanted my kids to also find a way to seek, look, and find those sparkling spots of light throughout their days, even when their faces were covered in tears and their hearts were filled with pain.
I placed our simple yet soon to be powerful boards in my living room wall. It was hard at first for me as it was such an eye sore and I love a well kept, clean, and simply decorated home. It’s ok, I said to myself, this is not only going to make our home even more special, but it is going to help my kids and I for many years to come.
Every night before going to bed I would say “Don’t forget to write your gratitude” as we all stood in the living room together. Although my kids were excited about it when we started, it was not easy every day. “Ugh, do we have to?”, “I’m already in bed”, “ I can’t think of anything right now”, “Can I just write it in the morning?” “I’m tired” were some of their first and as I called them lame excuses. Many times it was the simplest things in our days that caught our attention and brought a smile to our faces. Things such as being able to see a red cardinal eating out of our bird feeder while looking through our bedroom window; walking around the neighborhood together at the end of our day; seeing a deer in the trails, cuddling in our back porch or even at times being able to see our gardenia and hibiscus blossom in our yard. Other days we wrote more impressive and extraordinary things such as going boating, catching one or sometimes multiple fish, watching a magnificent sunset by the water, seeing dolphins, hanging out with some of our best friends or eating our favorite dessert in bed.
Not every day was easy and sometimes my kids would stare blankly in front of the boards with a sharpie in their hand trying, searching, digging for something positive to write. It was sometimes on those hard days when they would ask, can I please skip today mami? No baby, you can’t skip it today, I would tell them. I know it is hard, but it is in these hard moments where we truly find our strength. It is in these moments when we decide to throw in the towel and give up or we make the decision to keep on going, keep on fighting regardless of how hard or painful it feels. We are not going to give up when it’s hard, I said; we are going to keep moving forward together. I too had those hard days sometimes yet in some of them I would simply write “my tribe” as it was them who helped me and were there for me. For my kids, I became their tribe and on some of those hard days, they would simply write “having my mom” or “being able to talk to my mom”. It was on those days where my gratitude was simply being able to be my kids fort while trying so hard to also be their shield from the outside pain.
But we did it! Even after all the painful, terrifying, and sometimes tearful days the last year brought, we did it. A full year’s worth of gratitudes. 32 boards completely filled on both sides for a total of 64 boards of the small things that filled our hearts, gave us joy, kept us focused, and got us through the hard times. This was a huge milestone for us and it was worth every second of it. Many times those gratitudes were written with tears in our eyes, some were tears of joy, others of pain, but either way the biggest gratitude was that we were always there for each other. More importantly we kept searching for the tiny bits of light throughout our days.
A few days ago, I took my kids boating and fishing. About five minutes into our boat ride, my son Gaby spotted a manatee in the water. “Oh my God guys look at that manatee” he yelled at us all. We quickly turned around and were able to see this magnificent creature from afar. Without any hesitation and with the greatest amount of joy in his voice while rubbing his hands together as he does when he is genuinely excited, Gaby said “that was definitely a gratitude”. And there, 5 days before we celebrated our one year anniversary of writing down our gratitudes, my heart was full as my baby boy finally made a habit out of finding, searching, and pointing out the gratitudes of our days. That morning he could have said the boat or even having his cool new fishing rod I got him, but instead he chose the moment when his heart dictated what was truly a gratitude for him.
As I look back at all of our boards, some of which we have had to take down to make more room for the new ones, I can’t help but think how long it took for this tiny little thing to become a daily habit. To become something that without thinking we do every day. It takes time to develop positive new habits. It also takes plenty of effort and determination, but the magic happens when you do them every single day no matter what. When you don’t give up, when you don’t give into your own excuses, when you stop complaining and find ways to keep moving forward without failing. It is then when you are able to see the difference between what you were doing and creating a new life.
This small yet amazing feat of writing down our gratitudes has also led my kids into a new world. My daughter Emma has fallen in love with creating quotes about finding her inner strength and knowing her worth and together we decided to journal with a book of questions. My son Gaby on the other hand has fallen in love with journaling and began writing a book. The boards allowed my children to find even the smallest amount of joy while the journals became a new and safe place to let go of all the sorrows while growing and be able to have open conversations about how we are feeling and how we can make things better.
My house is never quiet but now at the end of our days, the voice saying “Don’t forget to write your gratitude” is not just my own, but at times it is them reminding me to write my gratitude right below theirs.