I can’t stand whining.
The substance of it, and the sound of it, are like nails on a chalkboard. Sometimes it feels as though I am stuck in a classroom surrounded by itchy fiends in need of a manicure.
My children do not lead overly luxurious lives. They can, however, walk into a kitchen stocked with enough food for today’s meals and snacks, and tomorrow’s. It is difficult to keep their toys organized and contained. When they outgrow their clothes, they get to pick another version in the next size. They have two parents who wake up every day with the primary motivation of providing for them.
My children have nothing to be whining about.
So when one of them whines for the red cup after I’ve given him the blue cup, or complains that the show she wants to watch is not on television, I break into a cold sweat. I want each of them to have the perspective that, in the grand scheme of life, this perceived deprivation is so inconsequential as to be laughable. I want each of them to focus on all the good around them, and not the one thing they identify as lacking in that fleeting moment.
In short, I want them to be the kind of adult I continue to fail to be.
Last week, I spent a few days in Florida with my daughter. I was on a business trip, and she got to spend time with my parents. When I returned to pick her up, we spent an afternoon at the pool.
The pool was in the back of a large hotel. Rimmed with palm trees and urns overflowing with flowers, it was full of water toys and other children. My daughter had been swimming in it for hours, wearing a new bathing suit and goggles, without a care in the world beyond where her plastic fish had sunk.
She made friends with two other children, and I got to chatting with their parents. We shared our appreciation that our children were able to have this experience: warm weather, endless swimming, new friends. The father of the duo mentioned that their motto for their kids is to be “grounded in gratitude.”
It was all I could do to stop myself from running off to silkscreen some T-shirts.
The next day, I started reading a new book. In it, the protagonist shares flashbacks of her sad childhood. In every scene of struggle, she reminds herself of her grandmother’s secret: focus on the positive.
It was as if the universe were snapping the straps of my bathing suit.
As much as I want my children to be innately and intuitively grateful, I must admit that I am not leading by example. I may complain only to my husband about my long days, and I may keep my groaning to a mostly internal dialogue, but it is all in the family of whining. Minor disruptions to my routine or expectations overwhelm all the events in between that go as designed.
When my favorite coffee shop runs out of my favorite breakfast bar by the time I get there in the morning, I view it as a sign of a doomed day. I forget to concentrate on my ability to buy myself breakfast, without asking for permission or funding.
When my child sleeps poorly because of an upset stomach or runny nose, I calculate the paltry number of hours I will sleep before my alarm clock sounds. I forget to count the blessings of every night that both children sleep peacefully, and wake up brimming with health in the morning.
When my husband wants to approach a situation differently than I do, I sometimes begrudge the eventual compromise or concession. I forget to acknowledge the partnership we have established and depend upon so genuinely that we can take it for granted.
Frustrations are inevitable. Nothing is perfect. People who pretend otherwise are confusing.
Even so, I should be rooted in gratitude. From that footing, the positives will overwhelm the inconveniences. Then I can stop my whining, and hope my children will take note.