My first born turned four this week. We kept his birthday party small – no friends or classmates. As my husband and I decorated the room, we arranged the gifts from the family that loves him. He received a fair amount of presents – not too many, not too few. Still, lined up along the wall, the sight made his eyes light up when he walked in the room to celebrate.
“Can I open them?” he looked up with pleading eyes.
“Of course, they are for you.”
“Happy birthday baby boy,” I whispered under my breath as he tore through the shiny, vibrant paper.
The party went off beautifully. He was thrilled that everyone got the memo that he had graduated from Cars to Hot Wheels and he added quite a few die-cast gems and race track kits to his collection. There was proof he was still my baby boy when he hid behind my legs as we sang to him. Of course, there were many more moments showing me what an independent little boy he is becoming. At four years old I expected those, though it doesn’t make it any easier to see your little one separate from you. He played with his sister and his cousin all day, showing off his boundless energy.
That night as I tucked him into bed, he said some things that bothered me. He complained about wanting more presents. He wanted more cake. He wanted more time with his doting grandparents. More, more, more. I walked out of his bedroom with tears in my eyes. He didn’t say thank you to one person unprompted. He didn’t show the joy I was used to seeing on big days like this. He didn’t seem to appreciate a bit of what he had – a loving family, a few new fun toys, and a day to celebrate.
“He’s just four,” I reassured myself.
The day after his party was his actual birthday and I realized it was the perfect time to introduce a new practice.
That morning, I sat down with my newly minted four-year-old and two-year old. I told them we were going to do a meditation in gratitude.
“Place your hands on your knees,” I guided them.
“Take a deep breath and close your eyes. Blow the breath out like you are blowing out candles on your birthday cake.”
Toddlers are fickle creatures. I had no idea how this would go over. But after the first two parts of the exercise, they looked at me expectantly, wanting more. I told them we were going to go around the circle until each of us had said three things we were grateful for.
“Grateful means something that makes you happy and something you are glad is in your life.”
I started by showing gratitude for the juicy delicious oranges we had just eaten. My son, started with race cars (of course!). Even my two-year-old participated with a little extra help. We went around three times. I’d love to say that my son showed appreciation for his good health and his wonderful mother, but his responses revolved around his simple loves, like cars and cake. The point is not to think of the perfect or most lofty things that you have in your life. Instead, the goal is to invite feelings of happiness and gratitude into our lives.
After talking about what we were grateful for, we put our hands together in front of our chest and rubbed them together a dozen times to create heat. We then placed them on our stomachs and bowed just a little to seal in our feelings of happiness. I closed with an OM. Even though I gave no explanation nor asked them to join in, they both sang with me. They asked to sing it again, so we did for a total of three times.
This simple two-minute meditation on gratitude was a moving experience for me on every level. I was impressed that my kids grasped the exercise at such a young age, I was elated to share a spiritual practice with them, and my own mood was significantly improved after just a couple of minutes of silence and expression of appreciation.
Since then, we have repeated the practice every morning, but I will never forget that it started on his fourth birthday. It was a gift I gave my son that gave me so much in return.