One Good Thing

“Nobody gets to go through life unscathed.”

This is a declaration I frequently use, mostly because it is true.  We tend to look at other people and think they live idyllic lives, absent of turmoil and storms, but in truth, we all have times when our skies turn inky and the seas we navigate roil with turmoil.

My daughter Elizabeth has been experiencing one of those seasons, when finances forced her to abandon school and return to New Hampshire.  The move was heartbreaking. She had to leave everything she loved behind- her apartment, her friends, the kitten she rescued from a dumpster.  She sold some of her furniture, and gave away the rest.  Then she packed what was left in the back of her car, and quietly wept as the two of us drove from Florida to New England.

Despair is dark place with deep muddy waters that drag our feet and keep us from moving forward.  Like the hooves of Artax from “The Neverending Story” Elizabeth’s feet shuffled through our apartment as she aimlessly tried to unpack clothes and books.  Mostly, things just moved from one pile to another, and nothing was really put away.  She attempted to smile, but her swimming eyes betrayed her soul. The task of rebuilding her life was overwhelming, an insurmountable precipice looming before her.  “Cheer up!” didn’t seem appropriate, but I wanted to help her to remember that all difficult assignments are accomplished one step at a time.

I looked at the white board hanging on the refrigerator.  We use it to leave messages for each other- “Doctor Appointment- Tues. at 10:30,” or “Remember Library Books,” or “Gabe called- call him back after 9.”  I wiped it clean and wrote at the top, “One Good Thing.”

“Okay, you guys,” I announced to Abby and Elizabeth, “Every day we are going to find one good thing to write on this white board.”

 I detected a slight eye roll from my daughters, but the humored me.  I found a black marker and carefully wrote, “Elizabeth is home.”

Abby followed with “I bought my wedding dress.”

Elizabeth obediently picked up the marker, and after a moment of thought, wrote, “I found my cup.”

I looked on the kitchen shelf where we store our mismatched cups.  We all have our favorites for morning coffee, and among the familiar mugs was a new one- a white ceramic mug monogrammed with a big black E.

“Small steps,” I reminded myself, and grinned at her.  She smiled back, and she looked a little less bewildered.  I looked at the mug, nestled between Abby’s and mine in its new home. 

In the days that followed, we continued to write on the white board.  Elizabeth unpacked and arranged her belongings on her dresser.  She set up her keyboard so she could work on her music, and a few days later, she interviewed and landed a job.

Now, almost two months later, the white board again is used for quick messages.  Elizabeth still misses her friends and her cat, but her list of good things is becoming longer than that of her losses.  She has become proficient at her job, is making new friends, and has taught herself to long board in the driveway outside our apartment.  She has slogged out of the valley of apathy and she is once again starting to resemble the Elizabeth of her childhood on the move, full of courage and determination.  It started with a simple step.  A simple declaration.  It started with one good thing.

Think About This

When my son Gabe was a little boy, his heroes were those characters who were protectors.  As a five-year-old, his favorite book was “St. George and the Dragon.” He loved Superheroes- Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers.   He had a keen sense of justice, a deeply kind heart, and an intensity of thought that often left him unable to fall asleep once tucked into bed.

To help my son fall asleep at night, I developed Think-abouts.  Each night after a story, a prayer and a song, I would snuggle next to him, and set the stage for something to think about as he drifted off to sleep.  They usually began in a similar way:

“Gabriel, MacGyver and Pooh Bear are on a mission to save a baby seal who is stuck on an ice floe in the cold Arctic waters.”

Okay, I know what you are thinking. “Seriously?  Gabriel, MacGyver and Pooh Bear?”

Well, the Think-about had to be adventurous enough to capture his attention, but not so scary it would frighten him.  It had to contain characters that he loved and admired. And it needed to give him the opportunity to make himself the character he imagined himself to be- altruistic, protective, heroic.  He would lie in bed, playing out the adventure in his head until he fell into slumber.  By concentrating on the Think-about, he’d forget the things of the real world that threatened to bar him from the Land of Nod.  His tense muscles would relax, his breaths fall into a slow, even rhythm, and his dreams would be kick started by his twilight imaginings.

As Gabe grew up, Think-abouts were replaced by earphones and music, his naivety giving way to snarky sarcasm.  However, he never lost his desire to champion for those who needed a defender.  As a teenager, he was loyal to a fault, sometimes putting himself in peril in misguided attempts to defend friends before making sure he had his facts straight, but as he matured, he learned to harness his reactions and tame them into responses.

Over the years, Gabe’s idealism has been tempered by realism, but he is much the same as that little boy who dreamed gabe oct 2013about saving baby seals from the perils of the world.  He champions for those who are weak.  He stands up for what he thinks is right.  He rolls up his sleeves and works hard to make the world just a little better than what it was before he was born.

Now, I’m not saying that in the days of think-abouts, I anticipated how my son’s life would unfold.  But I do know that we help influence our children by the heroes and role models we introduce to their imaginations.  We can help them align themselves with those who wear white hats, the caped crusaders, the protectors of the weak, the defenders of the small.

My son’s stuffed bear sits in a trunk in our attic, where it will stay until another little boy needs him. And Gabe will most likely never create a rocket out of chewing gum and paper clips, or save the world from a nuclear explosion.  But he is living a life that would make MacGyver and Winnie-the-Pooh…and his mother… proud.  He is becoming his own kind of super hero.

Think about that.

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