Tuesday, August 4, 2015

On Gratitude and Kindness

"This is so beautiful, Mom."
I can't tell you how many times I heard this sentence while we were traveling.

As I mentioned before, it was hard to travel alone with three kids for three weeks. Really hard, and really long. However, every time one of my little loves would notice the beauty around them--the mountains, the rivers, the clouds, the art, the rain--my heart sang just a few notes. They became aware of cloud formations and rock formations. They noticed the temperature in a cave in South Dakota and at the top of a mountain in Wyoming. They admired bluebirds in Idaho and butterflies in Colorado. They developed appreciation for the beauty of God's world, and as I saw it through their eyes, my love for it all grew deeper as well.

The other sentence I heard repeatedly from my little ones:
"Thanks, Mom."

Again, two short words, uttered many times daily. "Thanks for bringing us, Mom." "Thanks for buying us dinner, Mom." "Thanks for letting us take extra time in the ball pit, Mom." "Thanks for letting us listen to more Harry Potter, Mom." "Thanks for getting me new shoes when I lost mine, Mom."

Over and over and over. Two words that could soften my heart in an instant, no matter what behavior they had been displaying just moments before. Their gratitude made me more aware of the kindnesses around us--and the unkindnesses, too.

The two were juxtaposed so clearly when we attended "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" in Jackson Hole. We arrived fifteen minutes before showtime, hoping to sit in the lobby and listen to the songs and melodrama the cast presents before the show. The lobby was already full, and a short line was forming outside the theatre. Kids had eaten Thai food for dinner (not their favorite, but I was happy about it), and they were a little rambunctious from behaving and restraining themselves at a nice restaurant. The line was short, and since the theatre is family oriented, the crowd was young and not quiet. My boys began poking each other and discussing Pokemon and ninjas and other boy things while Evie interjected occasionally. A mother and her preteen daughter stood just before us in line, and we mothers made eye contact and exchanged a quick smile. I thought everything was good, until I saw the mother pull her daughter a little closer to her, throw a sideways look at my kids, and whisper in her daughter's ear. The daughter then gave a dirty look at my kids and turned the other direction.  I must be imagining it, I thought.

I wasn't. After settling my kids into their seats, I took Evie out for one more quick bathroom break and to get popcorn. When we returned, our row was completely full, and I had to step over everyone to get to our seats. Who was seated in our row? Yes. That mom and her daughter. As Evie and I carefully made our way across the row, I heard the daughter say, "And of COURSE they have to be sitting in our row!"

What? Are you kidding me? I glanced at the mother, who quickly ducked her head and looked away. I really had heard correctly. And it took everything I had to avoid stomping her toes as I passed.

Thankfully, we were sitting six seats away and didn't have to endure their comments through the show. But I was seething. And a little embarrassed. I replayed our interactions with them in my mind. What had the kids done that had aggravated her so? Nothing that I could think of. Because of this one comment, I was hyper-vigilant of the kids' behavior during the show. If the boys were laughing too loudly, I reminded them to quiet down. If Eve got close to the seat in front of her, I quickly pulled her back. The lady in front of her kept turning around, and my anger was reaching a boiling point. Doesn't she know she's short and can't see the show? I mused.

Finally, it was intermission, and the kids had enjoyed the show even more than I had imagined. The boys left to go use the bathroom, and I was trying to decide if I was going to make a rude comment to the lady and her daughter in our row when I took Eve out for her turn to use the bathroom. Just as we were standing to leave, the lady in front of us turned around. Oh, great. I thought. Here it comes again.

"Can your little girl see the show? My son and I have been trying move out of her way whenever we can so that she can see. I hope we're not too tall for her."

And with that, my anger vanished. That's all it took. My retorts to the lady and her daughter disappeared. Isn't it amazing how quickly a few kind words can work like that? For the rest of the show, all I could see was my children's joy and the kindness of a complete stranger sitting in front of me.

During the rest of the trip, I was quick to notice kindnesses of strangers around me.

The man in the picture below was one of two exceptional volunteers we encountered at Mount Rushmore. He was a retired history teacher, and when he saw the kids using their own money to buy souvenirs, he stopped to talk to them and to give them free prints of the mountain.
It doesn't take extra time to be kind, I learned.

Traveling and constantly eating out with kids is exhausting. When Heidi, Sam, and I had all six of the kids at McDonald's for dinner, an older man with a twinkle in his eye and coffee in his hand watched as we wrestled kids, filled drinks, opened ketchup packets, and tried to keep the commotion to a minimum. As he got up to leave, he commented how he used to bring his kids to McDonald's when they were young. "If you can't train 'em at McDonald's, then where else can you go? In those days, we only could afford to take them out to dinner once a year."
After shopping at Wall Drug in South Dakota, the four of us hit Dairy Queen for lunch. It was a madhouse in there--not nearly enough staff or seats for all the customers there that day. As we were finishing our lunch, another older gentleman approached our table. "Are these your children?" When I answered yes, he continued. "It is nuts in here, and your kids are the best behaved ones. Thanks for that." After he left, I proudly told the kids what he'd said. Hyrum joked, "I try to be bad all day, and that guy is ruining my reputation!"

Not even two minutes later, the boys were waiting in line to use the bathroom when I rounded the corner to see Hyrum in Micah's headlock. Another man, not as impressed as the first, asked me if the boys were going to kill each other. "No. Just Hyrum preserving his reputation." Guess I can't win them all.

On more than one occasion while traveling, a child would slip their hand in mine and quietly tell me, "I love going places with my family." And for the most part, so did I. I explained our money system to a few people when they would see a child reluctantly hand me a dime, and when I was explaining it to my sisters--how they got $5 every day and they got to keep whatever was left, Hyrum piped in, "But keeping them all is nearly IMPOSSIBLE!"
All of these experiences made me more mindful of how I treated my children and how I reacted to others when we interacted. I tried to extend kindness even when faced with rudeness, and to my surprise, I found that most people I ran across were truly kind.

This world really is a good place to be.


  1. Beautiful post, Jen! I completely agree that a little kindness can go a long way. I try to remind my girls to always be kind to people especially if they look like they are having a difficult time. I also try to show kindness to others when I'm out because I know I would appreciate the kindness of strangers if I'm struggling. You are raising good kids who will know how to be kind to others :)

  2. I loved this post Jenny. You're such a great mom!!

  3. That was one of my most enjoyable discoveries I made with all my road travels...many people are kind. Great post!