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Column: Learning to appreciate the gift of giving

  • C.S. Hammond. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Thanksgiving is a day of gratitude, but maybe we need to express more gratitude the rest of the year. (Dreamstime/TNS)

For the Valley News
Published: 11/27/2019 10:10:18 PM
Modified: 11/27/2019 10:10:14 PM

The simple and kind act of giving is something I want my son to be conscious of, and to appreciate. In the 23 short months we’ve had together since I gave him life, I have done more for him than I have done for all the other people I know combined. I have given him more than I ever thought I could, more than I thought I was capable of, and I know I will continue to do so until he no longer needs what I offer.

As he grows, what I give is becoming less physical: He can walk himself, he can eat alone, he is no longer nursing. Now his needs are more emotional, more intellectual, and therefore more complex. Intricate lines and dynamic webs of care are being drawn all over our house as he becomes himself.

As this shift is happening, it is easy to think that the best things I can give are just that, things. He loves his books and trains and STEM development bath toys — just as I love my shoes and soft bedsheets. I am trying to help him find the balance and learn the definition of “need.” I am afraid my son was born under the sign of stuff. I am trying to give him all I can while also not giving him the want of things.

This time of year, when I have no time, I have to stop to think about priorities. What is it that my son really needs the most from me? In the abundance of the season, coupled with all the noise of parenting, I sometimes get lost. I am hearing the tyranny of “should” over and over: You should do this or you will be sorry. I become uncertain, but I keep thinking back to what I want to give my son the most.

Before I had my baby, I was a family support social worker, visiting families with young children in their homes. Even though I have lived in the Upper Valley my whole life, I had no idea what poverty here looked like. This is a difficult issue and there is so much I want to say about it. From one side, the people in this field are incredibly dedicated and are all overworked and underpaid. From the other side, the isolation that poverty imposes on people is toxic, especially to young families who need community and support.

I am not an expert on this issue. But I know what I saw, and that was a legacy of pain passed down in generational poverty. The root cause of so many issues for most if not all of my clients was that they were raised to think that they were stupid, useless and unwanted, and they therefore felt unloved. That sense of worthlessness was the most immovable obstacle in their lives. When you think you are not worthy of kindness it affects everything in your life, especially your abilities as a parent.

Again, I am not speaking as an expert, but rather as an observer of recurring patterns. It’s obvious: How do you love your child when you have not known what it is to be loved? It became clear that the biggest advantage went to the children who knew they were loved. The kids who succeeded knew love and kindness in abundance. There was no scarcity for them. They knew it as a staple, a constant. Despite flux or big changes in their lives, when they knew they were loved, they blossomed even in the darkest, most stressful periods.

As a parent, I think about this a lot. I remember what I saw. It is easy to feel like I am doing something wrong, and then feel guilty on top of that. It is also easy to get caught in the consumer web — wanting to provide the best for my child and believing that comes in the form of things: toys, objects, the most activities, a life packed almost too full. I remind myself that a walk in the woods is more exciting for my child than a new toy, at least for now. As I try to grow that love of life, and not of stuff, I always come back to giving him what I believe he needs the most: deep and unconditional love. That’s the best thing I can give my son, and doing so truly gives me the peace of knowing I am doing something right.

With that base, that foundation of unquestionable love, my son is learning already to give: One recent morning he wrapped his still chubby baby arms around me and said, “Thank you.” He said it again two minutes later to the dog, so I am not quite sure he knows the meaning, but he will. And in the meantime, I am fortunate enough to get to watch him receive the love I give and live a life of plenty.

C.S. Hammond lives in Hartland. Email her at cshammond36@gmail. com.

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