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Giving thanks for one less poopy diaper

By Margaret Renkl

NOVEMBER 29, 1999:  It's a family tradition in a lot of American homes to go around the dinner table at Thanksgiving and enumerate the blessings of the past year. My own extended family doesn't indulge in this tradition, mainly because it would require every one of us to sit quietly and wait for our turn to speak, and my particular family tradition is for everyone to speak at once, ardently, any time we get together for a meal.

I like the cacophony of holiday meals in my family, but I also like the idea of making a quiet space in which to count my Thanksgiving blessings. Not the obvious ones--not the dearly cacophonous family itself, or the happy marriage, or the generous friends--not those vast blessings I count every day. To me, Thanksgiving is the time to enumerate all the small gifts I tend to overlook, the miniature blessings that make life a little less frantic, a little less boring, or a little less liable to remind us that we're hopelessly mortal.

So I've been making a list of the less conspicuous reasons I have to be grateful, a list that will, I hope, inoculate me against the irritation and gloom I'm so prone to when winter comes on. No one in my family will ever ask me to recite it, so I've written my list down. In the dark, cold days ahead--fraught times during which I'll be stuck in a small, crowded house with three stir-crazy boys--I may need a list like this to refer to:

I'm thankful for the new baby boy my family is expecting in March. And I'm also thankful that he's my brother and sister-in-law's baby boy, not mine. Every Thanksgiving for the past five years I've either been pregnant, recovering from a miscarriage, or caring for a newborn; I'm grateful beyond expression for my beautiful sons, but it's an immense relief this year to have my body back, to think of it as a source of pleasure instead of an incubator for the next generation. I can't wait for the day next spring when my new nephew arrives from his birth home in Guatemala; I can't wait to lift his sweet baby weight into my arms and smell his sweet baby skin and try my best to coax a sweet baby laugh out of him. But I love knowing that this sweet baby will be waking someone else up in the middle of the night.

I'm thankful that for the first time in 17 months, 2 weeks, and 3 days, we have only one child in diapers. This week our potty-resistant middle boy finally dropped his load in the toilet instead of his britches, and in his honor we threw a party complete with presents, several kinds of sugary confections, and the lighting of a dozen leftover Fourth of July sparklers. The boy himself was beaming with pride, and insisted on calling all his relations to report the news. "I poop on the potty," he crowed to his deeply reserved paternal grandfather; "I push and push and soon a poop come out of my bottom--plop, plop--into the water!" I don't know if his grandfather is including this detailed information in his own list of reasons to be thankful this year, but I sure am.

I'm thankful that our baby has learned the single most important word in a 1-year-old's vocabulary. Now instead of crying when his cup is empty, or screaming when his pacifier falls out of his crib, or throwing an almighty fit when his brother has taken away the toy he was playing with, the baby can say, calmly, "More?" Of course, if the answer to this question is "No," he still resorts to shrieking objections. Nonetheless, about half the episodes of baby screaming in our house have been eliminated by this one simple but effective application of the English language. And in a house with three little kids, any reduction in volume is a genuine cause for parental gratitude.

I'm thankful our firstborn is late for school every morning. After spending all of kindergarten and first-grade complaining that reading books is "great for you and Dad but nothing but boring to me," our big boy has finally discovered the joys of reading. Now he sneaks a flashlight into his bed at night and reads to his brother under the covers, and he picks the book back up as soon as he wakes in the morning. It's a fight every single day to get him out of bed and into his school clothes, a fight to get him to actually eat his breakfast--with his book open in front of the cereal bowl, he's so interested in what's happening in the story that he forgets to swallow--but I couldn't be happier. (I'm not entirely happy that some of these books have enlarged his vocabulary to include words like "crappy" and "boogerhead," but I'm willing to accept that tradeoff.)

I'm grateful our baby is cutting five teeth at once, that our babysitter quit, and that our second-grader is headed for detention if he forgets his homework folder one more time this month. Yes, the baby's in constant pain and making my life almost equally painful with his clinging misery, but I'm grateful that teething is the worst suffering he faces, that he and his brothers are healthy. And yes, I had to postpone seven deadlines this fall because I had no child care; still, I'm thankful I have work that will keep and that a wonderful new sitter appeared just before our bank account was totally empty. And yes, it's also true that detention would be a deep embarrassment to our bright but absent-minded son; nevertheless, I'm glad his teacher is helping him to learn responsibility.

Good health, good jobs, good teachers for our children: I guess these aren't such little blessings after all.

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