I started this post as a comment on Milk For Spice, but I found it getting long, and it tied indirectly into a conversation I had with The Sun last night, so I figured I'd just write it here.
Her post, "Why is a half-full glass so hard to see?" started talking about her Aunt's positive outlook on life, and then she goes on to say that often her kids and the Bull will stomp around looking at the world as if the glass is half-empty. And that her aunt, who's vision is failing, is happy to be able to see what she can, rather than what she can't. And she wondered why it was so hard for her family to see the glass as half-full. And so my response started out saying:
"The only way people can see to be grateful for what they have is to be able to see what they don't have. Which might sound like it's at odds with your Aunt... but I don't think it is. Although I dunno... lemme try to explain."
Then I realized I had a lot more to say, so l had to start at the beginning of the strand.
Firstly, having been in an abusive relationship, I can tell you that one of the reasons I stayed so long was because I only "saw" the positive aspects... the things I liked about him. The "half-full" part. When the "going" was bad, I would get through it the best way I could... but it was AMAZING how quickly I could "forget" the bad stuff. Until I found myself feeling fundamentally unhappy in my core, and decided that that couldn't be normal. I guess I had the comparison of a good happy family life, where Poppy (though a tad OCD-like... think Jack Nicholson's character in the movie "As Good As It Gets") was very respectful and loving of my mom. And Poppy always told me his eleventh commandment, which was "Neither a doormat or a dishrag shall ye be."
So finally I left.
Secondly, I've "seen" hard times... I know how bad/tough/sad life can be... and I try to stay positive when I'm going through things because sometimes there's no choice. But on the other hand, once I'm out of the bad times I allow myself be sad or wallow, if only for a minute.
I guess the common thread between the two is, you have to know bad, before you can see good. And in order to know bad, you have to know good. Once you know bad... you can tell that "well, on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being 'sucks ass' (or as Shark-Fu over at Angry Black Bitch calls it "FUBAR-Fucked Up Beyond Recognition"), this is only a 2, so I can deal". You can be grateful for what little you can see if you know that your vision is failing and eventually you may not be able to see anything. You can be grateful for good health... even with aches and pains, if you know how bad it is to be really sick. You can be grateful for the little bit of food you have when you know what it's like not to have ANY.
Yesterday I had an email conversation with a lady I see on the bus out here. I have to confess that for a long time I detected a "need" in her, and because I'm drained and am reluctant to get involved with people who have needs (that sounds callous but there's a whole other story behind that, which stems out of a sensitivity I have to people in Mental Distress) I've kind of avoided her. But she sent me something yesterday, one of those "the sky is falling!!!!" partially-true medical-condition/disease-du-jour emails, which of course I had to debunk with a link to Snopes. She thanked me for the correction, and one thing led to another and she told me that her eldest daughter had sickle cell, and that right before moving on to the Rock (a few years ago) her daughter had suffered a stroke, and was reliant on regular blood transfusions to stay healthy. She also mentioned that she (the mom) was looking for a way for her to feel more fulfilled in her life, that she felt she wasn't living up to her full potential. I wrote her back that truly, there was nothing like watching your kid suffer to make you sit up and take notice of your life.
Now, I've been blessed that the Sun is pretty healthy. Once when he was about 11 months old, he came down with a really nasty virus... maybe Coxsackie (and I say "maybe" cuz I HATE when your kid is nastysick and you rush to the doc and (s)he scratches the head and says "dunno... looks like a virus!" and there's nothing you can do about a virus but let it pass) but man was he sick. He was even throwing up breastmilk... and when a kid can't keep breastmilk down you KNOW there's a problem. I couldn't control his fever and at one point he suddenly went completely limp and I freaked out. I was alone (of course) with him at home, and the only thing I could think of was to strip naked with him and sit in a cold shower, and nurse him. So I did, and I think I called ShoeFly and after the shower we took him down to his doctor. After some Motrin and an antibiotic he perked right up... and he wasn't seriously ill like my friend's baby I mentioned the other day (who's coming home tomorrow) but I was scared shitless.
A little while after the Sun's virus, maybe three years or so, another mom-friend of mine's kid was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, a reasonably rare but particularly aggressive and usually fatal form of pediatric cancer. I went to visit them in Sloan Kettering, and I've never seen anybody sicker than that. My dad, even when he was at his worst, wasn't as near death as this baby was (I have to make note though, that I've never felt a spirit as big as that kid's. The room was filled with his fighting spirit, and I knew that that baby was going to fight with all his might. And I was right). Currently the littleone is in remission and doing extraordinarily well and has been labeled "No Evidence of Disease" (NED) for a few years (knockwood). But during the worst of it, his mom posted regularly about his day-to-day fight, and I became aware of the other Little Ones who didn't make it, and I shed tears over children I never met.
This is, in my opinion, about as bad as life can get. Especially when it's your kid. And other than the maybe-Coxsackie virus, we've been blessed with no major ailments. So compared to all that, it's all relative.
I don't shield the Sun from these things, like sadness or poverty or the death of a loved one. I don't overburden him of course... I only give him as much as he can take. And he'll tell me "Mom, I don't want to talk about it anymore--it makes me sad" when he can't handle it though sometimes if I feel strongly enough I'll push him a little past his limit. But I tell him. I tell him because I need him to know that he's got a lot, in comparison to others. He may not have everything he could possibly want, but he's got a lot and he should be grateful for it.
Because he doesn't really know "bad". He can't see "half-full" cuz he's never known "empty." And yes, I pray that he never really knows "bad"... at least until he's strong enough and old enough to handle "bad", but I also know that since he doesn't know "bad", he can't know "good".
It's one reason (out of the many) that I make my kid trek to Harlem every day (not that Harlem is "bad" anymore and certainly parts of it never were), or walk across 103rd street where until very recently the wino's hung out, or take him along Fordham Road in the Bronx, or trek him up to Yonkers. There's a funeral parlor on 103rd, and every so often when we pass by there on the way to school there will be knots of people darkly dressed, with a hearse out front. I point these things out to him, make him see the sadness of the people there. I believe he needs to "see" how other people live... not everyone speaks English, not everyone is clean and polished and has iPods or drives in cars or lives in suburban homes with porches, not everyone lives on a quiet street. Not everyone has a great, clean, office job. Not everyone is healthy. And these things, while not necessarily "bad", will give the people living life like this a different way of looking at the world.
I would make him come sit with me in the food stamp office, or trek him to Housing when I was trying for the section 8 voucher. It was amusing to me that he hated going to those places--especially the Food Stamp office which was usually horribly lighted with awful government-grade fluorescent lights, beige walls, industrial tile and too many people. Sleeping people, coughing people, children with runny noses. Stressed out and sad people. (When you're in the Food Stamp office, you can't leave to pee or go drink water or eat unless they tell you, because it's all "first come first serve." When you get past the initial application part, they may issue you a number, but they didn't call you in number order. So if you left, you missed your turn. And food and water weren't allowed in the office, and if you snuck food or water in there, the security guard would make you put it away or worse, throw it out. So kids were always screaming, and people were always crabby.) But I made him go with me, even when I had the choice to leave him somewhere because I felt he needed to know what life can REALLY be like.
When I'm broke and can't buy him something, I tell him why. I don't hide my struggles from him, because he needs to know that he should appreciate what he has. It ain't free... everything he has comes at a price. Sometimes we're in Target, and he wants a $2.99 deck of Trading Cards. And I tell him I don't have the $2.99 to spare today. "Why NOT! It's only $2.99". "Yes, but so is a box of juice for your school snack. And today I need to buy the juice, so today, you don't get the cards." And truthfully, sometimes I want to relent and overspend and get the juice AND the cards, but I don't, because he'll never learn the choice if I do.
We've had discussions on why I can't buy him the exact same thing the Moon has (the latest item was the Wii)... I don't have the money. "Why not? Can't you go to the bank and get some?"
"Well, you have to put money in there in order to get it out. They don't just give it to you."
"Well, put some in there."
"I need a job or some work in order to do that".
"So you should just go get a job."
Sometimes I tell him I'm looking, but sometimes I explain to him that part of my job dilemma is being able to be home with him... to pick him up from school or take him to violin or karate. I explain to him that the choice is... mommy working full time and you get that Wii/toy/every-trading-card known to man but you may probably also have to give up a lot of things because of time and I won't be there to pick you up from school... or, mommy not working full time and you don't have every toy you want, but you have my time and you get to go to karate and violin, and I get to pick you up from school. Which do you prefer?
I'm happy to say that about 90% of the time he chooses me.
But the point is... there are choices in life. You have a choice in the way you live (pretty much, things like race and class notwithstanding) but you certainly have a choice in the way you view life. However... you have to KNOW you have a choice, and you can't know that if you haven't been made to see.
My father once went into a discussion with us about Adam and Eve and the Tree of Life. Why the Tree of Life was ultimately more important... but the warning was not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That if Adam and Eve had eaten from the Tree of Life, they may live forever, but that wouldn't necessarily mean that they would also eat from the Tree of Good and Evil... and wouldn't become "God-like". But once they ate from the Tree of Knowledge... they would then know that if they also ate from the Tree of Life, they would be God-like. When they did eat from the Tree of Knowledge, their "eyes were opened" and they could "see", and they were turned out from the Garden of Eden... not solely as punishment for what they did but to prevent them from eating of the Tree of Life. And just in case they tried to double-back and sneak the fruit, God put a fiery sword at the foot of the Tree to prevent that from happening.
You could also argue that the "punishments" inflicted on Adam and Eve weren't punishments really... they are the consequence of knowledge. Hell... if you've every been pregnant and faced the idea of vaginal delivery for the first time, the more you know about it the more scared you are. A uniquely human perspective, since "dumb" animals don't face childbirth with the same fear. But I digress.
Longwinded spaghetti post... the conclusion of which is that while most parents actively seek to shield their children from the horrors and the not-so-horrors of life, there is something to be said for letting them see parts of it... so that they can see "half-full" because they will know the difference between "half-full" and "empty".
And the title of my own post came from a conversation I had with the Sun last night at bathtime. He was being annoying... whining about something and mimicking a friend, and I told him as much. Typical kid, he started exaggerating his behavior and I told I'd just arrange for him to live with that family. He "snapped to": "No, I'll stay with you. There's hugs here." Startled, I asked "You don't think there's hugs there?"
"There is, but not like this" and he gave me a big, nakedy hug. I laughed.
"It's better to have love than fancy things" he said, and I was so dumbfounded by what he said that I just started to laugh.
I laughed with the understanding that he was saying something important, in his own words, and that it wasn't about the "fancy things"... it was that he "saw" what is that we do have. That he could see the difference in the way people lived, and that he appreciated what he had.
And that made me feel really good.