I wrote this on Thanksgiving Day, 2003, but it seems appropriate to share it today.
Every year for Thanksgiving our family goes to our home away from home for the holiday. We usually pack the night before so that we can pick the children up from school and be on the road. Since most teachers send holiday art projects home on this last day of school, it has become customary to decorate our vacation spot with those art projects when we arrive for the Thanksgiving holiday. This year our first grade son’s class made Thankful Trees, a piece of brown construction paper with a tree drawn on it and the leaves made up of painted pieces of paper cut into the shape of leaves on which the children wrote short sentences describing why they are thankful. When we arrived and unpacked one of our daughters gathered the Thanksgiving art projects and began taping them to the dining room window. We have a turkey dressed as a University of Oregon Duck (Go Ducks!), another turkey with dangling legs and a bonnet, a mosaic corncob complete with raffia stem and the Thankful Tree. After the decorating was finished, I admired all of the colorful art that would brighten our Thanksgiving table and then stepped closer to read what was written on the leaves of the Thankful Tree.
Our son’s tree has seven leaves, a lot to be thankful for at any age. There are the expected, but still welcome, “I hav a dad” and “I hav a mom”. Every child needs to know that they have parents (or a parent, in the case of single-parent families) who are always there for him. My son and I have had our moments – he is one of those “spirited” children who pushed every button and sent me running back to the parenting bookshelves at Barnes & Noble looking for ways to deal with him. My husband and I have worked hard to steer his behavior down a positive path and our efforts, along with his emerging maturity, have taken hold and he’s a delight to have around. So seeing that he is thankful to have a mom made me feel especially good.
He also honored his other family members with “I hav brrtrs” and “I hav sisdrs”. Yes, he does – two brothers and three sisters to be exact. As an almost-only child myself I always wished for brothers and sisters to play with. Now that my husband and I have a large family I cringe when one of our children quite naturally complains about his or her siblings, the need to share or to help out a younger child. There are days when the bickering seems non-stop. Of course, I know that they each value the others. I see it when they stick up for each other on the school bus, share information about the latest music or movie craze or include brothers and sisters as something to be thankful for on a Thanksgiving art project.
The wider world is also acknowledged on his tree. First he includes “I hav a scl”. This one took me a long time to figure out. What is an “scl”? Then I tuned into my kid-spelling and it became clear. As a first-grader, our son is excited about learning to read and finding out about the oh-so-many things of interest to a six-year-old. I, too, am thankful that he has a school to open the doors for him, to touch his mind and draw out his interests. Second he writes, “Korea” – not “I am Korean” or “I am from Korea”, just “Korea”. I’m not a psychiatrist, but I think that’s pretty interesting. At six, he doesn’t know exactly how Korea fits into his life. We’ve traveled to Korea, we participate in Korean cultural events, cook Korean food, talk about his Korean heritage, but the information and experiences haven’t yet jelled for him. He does know, though, that Korea is important in his life and I am thankful that he knows that, even if he hasn’t yet put it all in perspective.
The last leaf on his tree encompasses all the others and really expresses the core of what a Thankful Tree is meant to be – “I m love”. Now, I know that what he meant by that was, “I am loved” because he had told me about that leaf the day they made the trees and all I can respond to that is, “Yes, he is!” But how interesting that he left off the “d” because, as a child full of intense feelings and excitement about his world; always ready for a huge bear hug or a simple kiss on the forehead; obvious concern for the people and even the animals around him; and a smile that can light up my heart, it is not only accurate that he would write, “I am loved,” but just as accurately, he could write, “I am love.”