Tuesday, January 24, 2012
"An immense enrichment of the soul is achieved through the experience of feeling gratitude. One should see to it that, even in a very young child, a feeling of thankfulness is developed. If one does this, a feeling of gratitude will be transformed into love when the child is older.
In every situation in life, love will be colored through, permeated with gratitude. Even a superficial observation of social life demonstrates that a valuable impulse for the social question can be fostered when we educate people towards a greater feeling of gratitude for what their fellow human beings are doing. For this feeling of gratitude is a bridge from one human soul and heart to another. Without gratitude, this bridge could never be built." - Rudolf Steiner
David came to us on a Saturday morning in the middle of September. He had been left by neighbors, who had moved to Iowa. He was an apartment cat and in the terror of moving had slipped out of the back door and taken refuge underneath the front porch. He refused to come out and so our neighbors had left. What else could they do? That had been in August. Now he was cold and he was desperate.
Mark and I were walking the dogs; Cody, an elderly gentleman of medium size and Sabyra, a feisty pit bull. Our black cat likes to make sure we are behaving ourselves and so she often accompanies us on our morning and evening walks. David walked right up to the lot of us, meowed once and collapsed at our feet. He weighed in at a whopping four pounds and was severely dehydrated. He was so malnourished he had forgotten how to eat and we spent the next three weeks smearing cat food on his face. Whatever he licked off was his meal. We tried everything to coax him to eat; Science Diet, Iams, Fromm, Natural Pet. He wouldn’t touch any of it. Finally, Walgreens had Friskies cat food on sale, what I like to call the McDonalds of cat food brands. I opened the can. David unfurled his face from behind his tail, picked his head up off the bed and sniffed a long deep grateful sniff. He collapsed off the bed in a single bound, staggered over to the bowl and ate like a pig. Now that he isn’t a bag of bones, he is quite the handsome cat, but odd. Unlike our other cats, who are privileged, David is grateful.
Gratitude is an odd thing in a cat. It goes against their nature. David knows he is supposed to be too proud to be grateful but I will catch him looking at me and I know he is smiling under his serious cat face. I know he is smiling, because I recognize him in me. I know that I am supposed to be teaching the children about gratitude. Like David, I am a fake. I haven’t a clue. Not like the children do. Before I worked at Lifeways, it had been years since I had last looked at a daddy long legs or listened to a woodpecker or clapped my hands with the first snow! Splashed in puddles? Oozed mud in my toes? Sat and just watched a duck sit on a rock? Climbed a tree? Watched a roly poly furl and unfurl it’s body? Carried a rock in my pocket? YEARS! But to Orion and Natalie and Otto and Amitai and Ava the world is an amazing and mystical place. Gaston and Rebeka and Anikka and Zoey and Leo think a log decomposing is really really cool and that a rock is something valuable and important. There is nothing that I can teach your children about gratitude. What I hope to do is expand it and expound it, feed it and foster it with a hearty resounding “Yes!” And to thank them daily for the eyes they see with. The world truly is a mystical and mysterious place!
As I have reflected on the concept of gratitude over the past couple weeks, it has become clear to me that this idea is one that, for me, evokes emotional, poetic images, vignettes of life. A life imbued with gratitude is a gift to oneself that radiates warmth both inwardly and outwardly. Each day I try to be thankful for the little things. Thank you to Spirit for awakening me each day and thank you for the opportunity to Awaken to each moment. Remembering to have gratitude for all that we have and knowing that it is enough provides a secure, satisfied feeling.
It is said in multiple spiritual practices that one should try to look at life through the eyes of a child. I’m thankful that my time here with the children at Lifeways gives me ample time to do that. This practice can be an exercise in inspiring awe and wonder at the simple natural wonders of the world. This simplicity in living encourages us to be more appreciative of our everyday routines; gratitude inspired mindfulness or vice versa. It seems they go hand in hand. Even the rhythm of Lifeways provides time to pause for a moment of gratitude before each meal. This is a practice that has carried over into our home life through my children and it has really enriched our mealtimes spent together.
Thank you to all of you for entrusting us with the care of your children. I am truly enjoying this time with the children of Ms. Jaimmie’s suite while she is on her maternity leave and am thankful that the connections with the children of the Woodland suite still remain.
Peace and Blessings,
(LifeWays welcomes children and families of any race, religion, color, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. In sharing my thoughts on prayer, I hope to connect with a more universal experience we might share about the value of meditation or contemplation in our busy lives.)
As a young girl growing up in a Catholic family, I learned there are several types of prayers. I was taught there were prayers for things you want (these should be fewest in number for a good child), prayers for intervention on behalf of others (much more desirable), prayers of contrition (being sorry for doing wrong), and prayers of adoration (these were supposed to be the most frequent, and the ones God really liked to hear.) Let’s face it, as a youngster almost every prayer I managed to utter regarded something I wanted. Think Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB gun and you get the picture. Usually, I prayed for a pony, which was a stretch since I lived in a crowded Chicago suburb.
As a skeptical teen, I questioned the motives of a God who would want people to "suck up" constantly with prayers of adoration, telling Her or Him how fabulous S/he is. Seriously? If you’re God, you shouldn’t need the constant praise, right? Over time, I put this teaching in the same category as “Women can’t be priests” and “Birth control is a sin against God.” Not relevant to my life.
As happens as one gets older, my prayer life began to change. Perhaps it happened as I was parenting toddlers; too tired to manage a full-blown, comprehensible prayer, I often found myself reduced to frazzled prayers like, “Help!” or “God, please don’t let this child grow up to be a pathological liar/shoplifter/graffiti artist.” Then, when I would go into their rooms at night while my children were sleeping, there would be the resigned prayer of “Please help me be a better parent tomorrow.” It was all I could muster before I fell into bed, exhausted.
Today, I find myself enjoying a whole different kind of prayer life than I envisioned as a kid. I’ve come to believe that every act I engage in has the capacity to be a prayer: making dinner for my family, wiping a snotty nose of a child at LifeWays, sharing a funny story with a colleague, or picking a ripe tomato from my garden. And these days, many times a day, I find myself offering up a familiar two-word prayer -- “Thank you.” Maybe it’s a by-product of getting older; of seeing the potential for heartbreak, struggle, illness or loneliness and being gosh-darn grateful for every joyful minute we are gifted. And when you start paying attention, there are so many of those moments! I no longer take for granted a hug from a sweaty child talking a mile a minute about a salmon that jumped in the river, a laughter-filled board game with my husband and soon-to-be-launched kids, or a thought-provoking conversation with a LifeWays parent.
I can honestly say these days, most of my prayers are ones of gratitude -- indeed, adoration -- of the incredible blessing it is to have a family, friends, a roof over our heads, food on our table, and an inspiring vocation in a workplace that is filled with joy. Maybe those Catholic nuns weren’t just preaching dogma after all --maybe they were really on to something.
Thank you, dear LifeWays parents, for sharing your beautiful children with us every day. I am grateful.
Snow, snow, snow, how we do love the snow!
It’s so nice to finally have some snow on the ground! The Kinderhouse children were thrilled to be out in the newly-fallen snow, and enjoyed rolling around in it and sampling the snowflakes! The snow seemed to enliven their spirits and added a magical serenity to their play. As a teacher, their enjoyment was truly gratifying. I felt so fortunate in being able to give the children the time and space to enjoy being out in nature in this way.
I recently had my annual work performance review with Mary. As always, I felt really lucky that I work at LifeWays, and that I truly enjoy my work. Working with the children and the other caregivers allows me to expand my knowledge of children development. I have gained an appreciation for how the first seven years of a child’s life shape the rest of his/her life, and therefore strive to provide a warm, simple and nurturing environment for the children.
As a child, my siblings and I would often pay my Aunt and Uncle long visits. I remember my Aunt telling me one meal time, “You must always say thank you to the person who has prepared your food.” This simple statement has stuck with me.
It is not always easy to show true gratitude when one is facing a difficult situation, but it is at these times when gratitude is exactly what is needed. I have found that when things are tough, having a sense of gratitude for the things that are going well can have a healing effect and can bolster us through difficult times.
How can we teach children to have a sense of gratitude? If we remember that young children learn primarily through imitation, all we have to do as the ones being imitated, is to show genuine gratitude ourselves. Of course, like a lot of things about raising children, it may be easier said than done! But we can strive to model gratitude for our children by simply saying “Thank you for our meal,” as we do at LifeWays. If we continually express our gratitude, our children will learn to do so as well. We can teach children to enjoy being out in nature, in all kinds of weather, by enjoying it ourselves. If they see us making snow angels or catching snowflakes on our tongues, they will imitate us and pick up on our attitude towards nature. In this way we can foster in them a deep appreciation for nature that will lead them to revere and protect natural spaces as adults. Because young children are such imitative beings, our actions truly speak louder than our words.
I am grateful to be a part of the LifeWays staff. Thank you, LifeWays parents, for the opportunity and the honor of working with your children.
Ms. Rhoda Kambandu
Earth who gives to us this food,
Sun who makes it ripe and good,
Sun above and Earth below
To you our loving thanks we show.
Blessings on our meal and peace on Earth
For health and strength and daily bread
We give our thanks today
With hands joined, folded gently on the table, or crossed over our hearts, we sing these words to express deep gratitude for the nourishment we take into our bodies and the company shared around the table. What better place to instill a sense of gratitude. When so many families in the city we live face impoverishment and have little access to healthy, nutritious, whole foods, it’s of even greater importance to recognize the abundance in our lives and the abundances we share at Lifeways. I am ever grateful that I am able to provide a good healthful meal to all the children at Lifeways to help stimulate their minds and aid their growing bodies. With simple recognition of the privileges we hold, we can begin to value and understand what we have to be thankful for. I see gratitude everyday at Lifeways, whether it be in saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ or a reminder to do so. I see gratitude when Jasper, with beaming face and bright eyes, thanks me personally for the sunflower seeds and cranberries I put in the salad. Such expressions bring forth things other than gratitude – love, respect, compassion, reverence, understanding, all which help encourage our devotion to one another and honor everything we may receive.