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Suzanne Tobias: May we be truly thankful

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, at 8:48 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

My son has reached the age where he prefers to say “thank you” on his own, thank you very much.

I can’t remember where we were recently – maybe at a store? talking to friends? – when someone gave Jack a small item or paid him some compliment, perhaps held a door open for him to pass through, and I said what most mothers say in such instances:

“What do you say? …”

“Thank you,” Jack said, smiling at the person and then glaring at me.

Back in the car, Jack buckled his seat belt. “You don’t have to say that anymore,” he sighed.

“Say what?”

“You don’t have to tell me to say ‘thank you,’ ” he said. “I’ll do it on my own.”

“Oh, OK,” I said. “I just like to make extra sure you say it. But you’re right: You’re old enough to do that without a reminder.”

I apologized and pledged to tone down the Manners Patrol, and have since noticed that 12-year-old Jack does, in fact, thank people unprompted. Most of the time. So does his older sister.

They even write thank-you notes on their own, for the most part, once I give them the cards. And a pen. And a reminder, in list format, of each person who gave them a gift and what the gift was. And some stamps. And assuming I address the envelopes. But you get the idea.

On this day devoted to giving thanks, I’m reminded of the need to teach and demonstrate gratitude beyond that simple, reflex “What do you say? …” – to model true, sincere thankfulness.

With teenagers, that means thanking them for everyday kindnesses: cleaning a bathroom, helping carry groceries to the house, raking leaves, reminding me of an appointment, feeding the dogs, getting along.

Saying “thank you” without being asked.

Our family still laughs about the Greg Heffley thank-you cards – a fill-in-the-blank format made famous by the character from the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books, who wanted to make his thank-you notes quick and easy:

Dear _______,

Thank you so much for the awesome _______. How did you know I wanted that for my birthday? I love the way the _______ looks on my _______! All my friends will be so jealous that I have my very own _______.

Thank you for making this the best birthday ever.

The danger of that simplified gratitude becomes clear when Greg’s aunt gives him a new pair of pants and he writes, “I love the way the pants looks on my legs! All my friends will be so jealous that I have my very own pants …”

Jack wrote a thank-you to his grandparents recently for a monetary gift and joked that he should use the Heffley format: “Thank you so much for the awesome cash. I love the way the cash looks in my wallet!”

He didn’t, of course, because Oma and Papa might not have gotten the joke. And he’s learned over the years that precise words and sentence structure aren’t the point.

The point is having a mindset of gratitude.

Appreciating what you have and what you’ve been given.

Feeling thankful and expressing it as a person, not a parrot.

I get that now. And I’m thankful for the lesson.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SuzanneTobias.

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