In an effort to make nightly dinners with our young sons bearable, my husband and I created a conversation starter: We each go around the table and say a good thing and a bad thing about our day. This helps the kids focus their thoughts and lets us in on any goings-on at school we might not know about.
I don't know about your dinner table, but ours borders on a free-for-all. One boy hates all vegetables, and one hates most meats, and they both hate a sauce of any kind. They salt their food until it's white. They sit on their heels, drop their forks, stretch and interrupt each other.
I'm frequently irritable at dinner, because it's a lot of work to clear the homework and newspapers off the dining room table, set the table and put a balanced meal on it. I do it because it's the right thing to do, and because I want us to come together as a family once a day and share something. So imagine my joy when my youngest took his turn at the conversation and, smacking away contentedly on a buttered noodle, declared, "My good thing is right now."
Words to warm a mother's heart. After all the things he did that day - play on the playground, play in school, play with his brother, play in the bath - the dinner I worked so hard to prepare (the dinner I thought nobody appreciated) was his "good thing."
Kids tend to live in the moment anyway, so whatever they're doing at the time that's fun is their good thing. Slurping down pasta with melted butter and plenty of salt? Good thing. Beating on your brother with a 3-foot, inflatable candy cane while your parents decorate the Christmas tree? Good thing. Putting Power Rangers and Lego Darth Vader in the Nativity set and using the manger as a staging area for a mega-showdown? Good thing.
My good thing so far as I write this is ... well, I'm not sure. I made a mistake and bought decaf instead of regular, which did not help my morning. The kids were sulky at breakfast. It's days before Christmas, and we still haven't taken our Christmas card picture yet, I am not finished shopping or wrapping, and the house is so cluttered it looks like a bomb went off.
That first Christmas could not have been easy on Mary. I had my kids in a well-equipped New York hospital with all the drugs and helpful nurses I could want. I can't imagine riding a donkey and then lying down on a bed of straw, hoping for the best. But then the stars and the angels and shepherds came and reminded Mary that her good thing was "right now."
We each have angels in our lives to remind us that our good thing is right now. The co-worker who provides you with sarcastic comic relief; the friend who knows how to listen; the dog who is always happy to see you. We are angels to other people, often without even knowing it. Frequently, our good thing is not what we planned, and so we have trouble recognizing it.
This Christmas, family members will annoy me. I will get gifts I don't like. I will miss people who are no longer here. I will feel sad for all the suffering in the worst parts of the world. I will be so exhausted by Christmas afternoon that I will fall asleep in my dress clothes for a nap.
But then I hope I will look at our tree and see the ornaments all clumped together in one section where the kids hung them, even though my husband kept telling them to spread them out. I will take an Advil to get over my Christmas Eve hangover. And when one of my kids cries because he doesn't have the right batteries for a new toy, and we can't get any batteries until tomorrow, I will just give him a hug and a cookie, and I will say to myself, "My good thing is right now."
Pam Lobley is a columnist and playwright. Her Web site is www.pamlobley.com.