Gratitude is a strange feeling. We say “thank you” a lot, but we don’t always realize what that means or implies. J is a big fan of THANK YOU, but it often sounds like what he means is F*CK YOU. With him it can be such an automatic response that the urge to say “yeah, yeah, whatever” is often there, on the tips of our tongues, waiting to tumble out.
I will confess one thing to you: our gratitude is often arrived at in a crash, or expressed through gritted teeth. This is not because we don’t have what to be grateful for, but rather because -a lot of the time- we end up being grateful for things we might have been dreading, and things we were unprepared for until they happened.
Take, for instance, the Teeth Issues that dominated the first half of 2013. We are, surprisingly enough, grateful for those, and we really would not have dreamed this gratitude was at all possible. We are grateful because of several things: a) J’s teeth have been taken care of, b) J actually learned to communicate better in light of this situation, and c) we realized J is a lot more resilient than we thought. We are grateful that The Kid Who Was Godzilla has learned (somehow, someway) to manage the anxiety that would have turned Teeth Issues into a catastrophe a mere three years ago.
For some strange reason, we are also grateful for J’s recent meltdowns at school. I know this sounds weird (wrong even,) but the truth is that we have figured out that it’s not the medication that J is having issues with, but rather some sort of -as yet undefined- dissatisfaction with the environment there. While we are not grateful that we don’t know what causes this behavior, at least we can be grateful that it is not a constant attitude that seeps into everything he does and that reverts us to where we were when we couldn’t even go shopping without incident. So, let’s say we’re grateful that this is contained to one location so far, and that we can work on solving the mystery of its provenance as diligently as possible. Our success hinges on so many factors that it’s not even funny, but…we’re grateful that we are no longer entirely paralyzed by the notion of having to figure things out.
We are grateful that TGG seems to be maturing a little more with each passing year. I say “a little more” because nowadays kids aren’t fully ready for the adult world until they’re much older. At the age of 22, TGG still hasn’t fully grasped the complexities of adulthood, and -from time to time- he will do something tremendously bone-headed, but we are grateful that he has moved one more step away from his innate stubbornness and generational arrogance. It might be that he realizes he’s too old to not take advice, or that we’re too old to put up with childish bullshit from a grown-up, but -inch by inch- we’re moving forward on that territory and, eventually, we’ll be firmly planted in Grown-Up Land…or, rather, TGG will be.
We’re grateful for the Keystone Kops-like quality of our guardianship process. If that hadn’t exploded in our faces when it did, we wouldn’t have been angry enough to get REALLY proactive about the whole thing. Until we had to actually take over and bypass the attorney, we didn’t know what the heck we were doing, or how to work through the intricacies of the process.
Annoying and overwhelming though it has been this year, we’re grateful for Dada’s job. At a time when so many people are trying to make ends meet, we’re doing that, but with the certainty that -for now- there’s a steady income to support us. In the great scheme of things, we have all we need, and we are not facing any desperate want. There are so many people out there who have nothing, and need so much…we haven’t taken a vacation in years, but we have a roof over our heads, food on the table, medical and dental insurance, and what more can one really ask for??? Love…and that we have in spades…
We’re grateful, even when we think it’s a backhanded blessing that we’re being given. Do we deserve all that we get from life? Not all the time, no. I admit to you, and this is not an easy thing for me to say, that I don’t deserve nearly half of what I get. I am, you see, a bad daughter and a bad sister, and being as good a mother and wife as I can be doesn’t fix that. I am suffering from terminal petty selfishness, and there are things I cannot let go of because I am not as good a person as I’d like to be. That I am, in turn, being deluged with all these wonderful things makes me feel terribly guilty, and I feel even guiltier when I say to myself that I am thankful for all the good (backhanded or no) that comes my way.
This is the thing: we have a severely disabled young man we are raising; his future is uncertain because, well, all futures are, and the complexity of disability and such plays heavily in this mix; we don’t own our own house, and the one we live in is, truly and sincerely, a tremendous luxury that we’ve committed to because -selfishly- we want to be more comfortable, and we want J to have his own space; we have debt that isn’t crushing…if I worked outside of our home, which I don’t do because we’ve decided I should be 100% available for J year-round. We have a ten year-old car that runs beautifully, but has emotional issues; we have a 22 year-old son who’s learning to be a grown-up and sometimes resents us for expecting more from him than he wants to give; we have aging parents that we don’t see as often as we should; we are aging very quickly, and not as gracefully as we’d like to, but we are trying -very hard- to not fall apart in the process.
Sometimes I look at our life, and I ask myself why are we so happy??? We live paycheck to paycheck, have an 18 year-old who needs supervision when he showers and can’t count farther than 30 (on a really good day,) never go anywhere exciting or do anything fantastic. Our home is decorated in the style I like to refer to as “genteel decay on a broken shoestring,” and we don’t belong to a cool social set. We play board games, buy the Sunday Edition of the New York Times once a month, and take a whole month to read it, curl up on the couch to read together, consider a 100-dollar pair of shoes an excessive luxury, have disjointed traditions that don’t fit with those of the rest of the world, own more rugby scrum caps than a whole rugby team would need even though NONE of us play rugby, dread the notion of a car repair or a major medical emergency because either would crush us financially, and can never own a dog…and yet we’re disgustingly, profoundly, sincerely, honestly, wholeheartedly happy…
Through gritted teeth, and directly from the deepest corner of our hearts, we are happy…and if that isn’t enough cause to be grateful, then we can add all the little trimmings that go on the side: our kids are funny, smart, interesting, a little weird; we are madly in love with each other; we cook really well; we have our health, even if it squeaks from time to time… We are grateful. Grateful. Grateful. Grateful…and today we can say it without gritting our teeth, and with the house smelling of turkey that is slowly roasting, and cats that are snoozing in corners, and J that is walking in and out rooms demanding attention and then immediately rejecting it, and TGG pushing gurneys and waiting for 4 o’clock, and my family diaspora that I can never repair, and Dada’s family that we don’t see often enough, and still we manage to live steeped in love and the craziness of our “normal.”
And for all that we are grateful, no “yeah, yeah, whatever” about it.