Monday, May 16, 2005

Goodness / Gracious

Listening to: Hüsker Dü, Zen Arcade

Last Friday I took Marni to the zoo. Her pre-school had arranged the trip but at the last minute, the transportation backed out and the school called all the parents asking if they wouldn't mind bring their kids with everyone meeting at the Zoo's front entrance. Since I had the day off, I figured that since I was taking the drive I might as well take the entire tour with her, do a little daddy/daughter bonding.

At this point, a paternal paean to my pixie's day at the zoo would make an adorable, if not prosaic, post. Likewise, although a brief essay on the wonder of nature might be in order (you can read an excellent essay on that over at Outside In), it's not where I'm going. Sparing you palaver here is my supreme act of compassion.

One of the first stops displays at the zoo is the Giraffe pen where, for $1, one can feed the giraffes three crackers that resemble giant Triscuits. Daddy spent $2 so Marni could drop the crackers before a gluttonous male giraffe could twist his ophidian tongue around the treat. Apparently, although she was pleased by the proximity of the beast, she was not interested in actually touching or being touched. Leaving the giraffes behind, we walked by various other species that warranted Marni's passing interest if not outright indifference.

Lilly is my "animal kid" and as I've explained in previous posts, I can totally see her growing up to become a naturalist or veterinarian. Marni, on the other hand, is much more urbane and not really into the world of animals. Lilly is Birkenstocks, Marni is Bruno Magli.

The animals got little love from Marni but the side attractions had her skipping with anticipation. The little kiddie train, the merry-go-round, cotton candy and the pony ride were the offerings that really captured her attention. To top it off, I bought her a rubber-foam giraffe-face visor (even though it was a cool, partly-cloudy day).

Work called me while in the monkey house, pleading for me to come in and cover for a flaked-out counselor (fodder for another post). Although I was obligated to my daughter (and not likewise obligated to sacrifice my day off to cover for some blowhard incapable of doing his job), I nonetheless promised I'd come in as soon as I was done with the zoo. Considering Marni's ambivalence with our adventure, I figured we wouldn't be there too long.

As we were heading for the exit, Marni asked to feed the giraffes again. No, I explained, we've done that already and it's time to go. Daddy had done enough, keeping her there a couple hours past what she would have gotten had she stayed with her pre-school class. We were both jaded with the been-there-done-that ennui and she was testing my limits. Indeed, she didn't take my refusal well at all.

Dropping her off at her mom's, Marni still harbored a resentment at not being indulged with a final game of biscuit-dropping. Look, I explained to her, you got to do everything you wanted and yet, instead of being grateful for that, you're angry for not getting to feed the giraffes - except, you DID get to feed the giraffes but no thanks for that. Daddy's feelings are hurt, I explained, that you can't say Thank You for taking you to the zoo and instead you're mad because Daddy said it was time to go.

Marni offered a reluctant thanks but held onto her resentment. I confess that my own resentment gripped me during my drive to work. My kids need to learn to be gracious and I need to figure out how to teach that lesson to them.

I'd dealt with this issue a few days prior. My mom gave the girls some toys but instead of being thankful, they griped, whined, and cried. "She got the one I wanted," or "I wanted the pink one," or whatever, no solving the dispute because any trade-off would only lead to more tantrums. Mortified, I ended up taking the toys away and giving them back to my mother. No one was getting anything until they learned how to be gracious instead of mewling malcontents.

I guess I'm fishing here for advice (heh, BIG surprise!) on how to teach graciousness. I believe there's a bigger lesson to be learned in all of this but I'm done with my kids getting presents and then whining about how it's not perfect. Well, nothing's perfect, really, but will they ever understand that it's not the thing but the thought that counts? God, I hope so because I firmly believe that gratitude keeps us happy. We can't take a razor to our wrists if we can still count something to be grateful for. Gratitude is a function of acceptance and acceptance is the key to serenity. And if there's anything I wish on my children, it's the gift of serenity.


Mayden said...

Graciousness is a concept far beyond the scope of rugrats as young as yours. Teaching respect and being grateful for what one has takes giving them a scenario and letting them see it in action. "If you love (so and so) and you decide you want to give them a special you thought about long and hard, and then when they get it, they say how much they wish you had given them the purple one instead, how would you feel?" Do a little play acting or whatever works on your brand of child. The word means's the actions that drive the point home.

vicki said...

Sorry, Jim. I'm with Ms. Marni. I'm thinking your went to that great zoo behind the Broadmoor. I whined like an ungrateful little guttersnipe when FG dragged me away from that giraffe exhibit- and I'm fairly anti-zoo (another day).

The whole issue of learning to be gracious and grateful is a very late learned concept in my experience. I have pretty cool kids and they are just NOW at young adulthood starting to express appreciation. You can certainly get them to be polite but really thinking about what you've put into them? Late to be internalized. I'm not sure why that is; I guess it's just a higher order value. Also, they seem to learn it's a good value long before they put it into practice- sort of like the concept of cleanliness. Based on Marni's experience of being loved and cared for by you- and that means getting her needs met- she has reason to feel entitled. I know you mentioned that this wasn't the first time but maybe she was also a little sticky around the up coming transition. As the King of More, you know what it's like to want more of a good thing.
Oh, those ophidian tongues! Blue, too. Thanks for the fun read- good luck.

chip said...

I think this is just one of those things where you have to keep plugging away with very little if any short-term satisfaction. The pay-off comes later on down the road. But I think it's vital to keep harping on the gratefulness thing whether they seem to understand it or not.

My daughter, 14, is at the stage where in private she will complain and gripe, but she has learned how to be very pleasant and grateful to others -- except of course her parents. We're still working on that.

panthergirl said...

I agree with both Mayden and Chip. The "how would you feel" approach has always worked for me, and not necessarily right away...but as Chip says, you keep at it and eventually, you will reap what you sow.

In the meantime, there's no doubt that it's embarrassing when they do it to other people!

seeingdouble said...

No advice... I'm busy licking my wounds from the beating my kids gave me today. I'd love to teach them graciousness, but first I have to teach them to listen to Mommy, and act like little children, not chimpanzees. It hath not been a good day! Good luck, Jim!!

pinkme said...

I taught my boys to be gracious at an early age. I taught them by example. Everyone gets a "please" or "thank you" from me. I explained that even though we receive something that isn't exactly what we wanted, the whole "It's the thought that counts" philosophy applies. They liked us enough to think of us and their gift comes from their heart. I have always been very thoughful of others feelings, even if I disagree with them. I make sure that my boys know it is not acceptable to be-little someone for their thoughts or opinions, no matter how outrageous. Everyone is entitled to speak their mind. We can try and "enlighten" them by sharing our opinion but never make someone feel stupid.They have always been gracious with others,not always with me, I'm just the mom.