“Oh, thank you!” says my three and a half-year old son. I respond with an automatic, “You’re welcome”, not even pausing to consider what Leo is thanking me for. I am trying to hover over the toilet at the burrito joint where we sometimes go when I am simply too exhausted to cook or to pick up something from the grocery store. In other words, we go there a lot. While hovering, I am reading a text from my boss about something that could have waited for business hours. All the while I am trying to keep an eye on the door since Leo has a habit of throwing open the door before I have pulled down my skirt.
“No Momma. I was not thanking you.” Leo says matter- of- factly. “I was saying thank you for the paper towels.” I stop what I am doing and look in Leo’s direction. He is standing under the automated paper towel dispenser with this silly grin on his face, tickled pink that this machine just gives away paper towels. All you have to do is put your hands under the machine and as if by magic it knows exactly what you need and gives it to you.“Momma, I didn’t know it was going to do that!” Leo squealed with glee. And he returns his hands to the same spot. “Oh, thank you very much!” he says.
An unexpected surprise has him delighted and I am probably even more so. As a mother, these are the things that bring me the most joy and it is little moments like this that make spending time with a child a worthwhile pursuit for any adult. You learn so much; rather you remember so much, about yourself and about the world that your adult heart forgot. The paper towel dispenser has me thinking about the unexpected things in life for which I am grateful.
I remember my Grandmother stressing to me the importance of “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Sure there is Grandma; I get ‘em all the time. It’s called coupons. But, none the less, I had a hard time being grateful because any time something good came along I feared fate’s retribution. As if God would bless me once and then come down and smite me twice, just cus that’s how he rolls.
There are the obvious things to be grateful for, the ones mentioned in the childlike prayers I used to recite. “Thank you for my house. . . ” “Thank you for my family. . .” but, when put in the light of any given tragedy these everyday blessings really hit home and my thoughts shift to “Hey- I really am lucky to have a roof over my head.” Witnessing the devastation of a natural disaster or terrorist attack seems to make us all hyper-grateful. . . for a while.
I have had the pleasure of “working with the public” for many years and I am constantly afforded the opportunity to see people on both their best and absolute worst behavior. On a bad day, I may be likely to tell you that the world is full of insufferable assholes, but I actually believe that people are by in large sympathetic souls. We do care. We do want to help. Sometime we just forget to keep caring because we are so distracted with the phone calls from the boss, paying our over inflated mortgages and hovering to prevent germs because health care is just not what it should be. You know, all of our First World problems.
Then there is the type of gratitude that Leo and the paper towels taught me about; gratitude for the unexpected. I am talking about the type of magic where, just like the paper towel machine, the universe gave me just what I needed. And often times, it is exactly what I thought I did not need and most certainly did not want.
This has been true of most of the major things in my life. Case(s) in point: Growing up I was pretty lonely and the vibe in my house was less than pleasant. I turned to reading to hide in fictional worlds. Being a bookworm does not seem like something most teenage girls would yearn for, but my bookish tendencies would later develop into my greatest dream: writing a book. My broken-down family was and sometimes still is a painful burden to bear, but I realize now that it has bestowed upon me a strength of heart which I don’t know if I would be capable of otherwise. Downright traitorous relationships that left me blindsided and broken-hearted; they also gave me the gifts of a razor-sharp radar that can quickly point out the wrong people and a deep appreciation for true love and friendship.
The greatest unexpected blessing of all is Leo. Getting knocked up in the midst of a rocky relationship when I had not even graduated college sure did not seem magic, or like the universe giving me just what I needed. In fact I was scared shitless. But not a day goes by that I don’t thank the lord, thank my lucky stars, or thank _________ (insert any other applicable deity or entity) for my son. The ways in which he has opened my heart, mind and eyes can’t entirely be measured. Having to step up to be the person he needs me to be is the greatest gift I have ever received and it just keeps unfolding.
It seems to me that it is the pain that keeps us growing and receiving. I am by no means attempting to poo poo on peoples pain or trying to piss off people with problems. Nor am I suggesting that we go out there and throw ourselves to the wolves in order to learn a lesson or two. What I do know is that I can honestly say: I wouldn’t change a thing; not a single thing about where I have come from and what I have been through. And that, believe me, says a lot. So I am thankful for the unexpected and the uncertain and I even try to be thankful for the unwanted. And the paper towels. Can’t forget to be thankful for the paper towels.
So what’s your “paper towel story” ? What changed your life or gave you new perspective? I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE for you to share some of the unexpected things you are grateful for!