The Thankful Tree

There’s something about November that always feels just right.  Maybe it’s that last bit of calm before the busiest part of the holiday season.  Maybe it’s the crisp, cool air brushing against my cheeks during a morning walk with the kids.  Or maybe it’s that steaming mug of spiced cider by the fire, a well-worn book in hand…

November always speaks to me.

November reminds me to slow down, think about what I have, and be thankful for everything before me…right this very minute.

This November I’m holding my family close.  In the aftermath of the hurricane, I feel just a little bit helpless.  Watching the storm from afar was no easy task, especially as it threatened to wreak havoc on my little beach town on the Connecticut coast.  I grew up there.  I found my way there.  I return there each summer to find my center and reconnect with my roots.  Part of my heart will always belong there.

The images of the surge as the storm approached were almost too much to bear, but I found that I couldn’t tear myself away.  I couldn’t cope with the fact that my safe place, my mother’s home, might face complete devastation.  In the end, the damage was significant, but nothing, not even remotely close, compared to the complete and utter devastation in parts of New York and New Jersey.  My little town will face a large clean up, but those people?  They lost everything.  Every little thing.  And the people who say things like, “it’s just stuff”?  Clearly have never lost everything.

So this November, I’m focusing solely on gratitude.  I’m donating every little bit that I can to help rebuild some lives, and I’m holding my family just a little bit closer.  Because nothing, nothing at all, should be taken for granted.

It’s a lesson that I always make an effort to impart to my kids.  If you have more, even more than just one person, then you should help.  If you can, you should make efforts to improve the lives of others.  We can and we do.  And this season, our efforts will be focused on the East coast.

The other lesson that my children hear each day? We should always be grateful for what we have, particularly the love that we are given.

Last year we made a Thankful Tree.

We each added one leaf to the tree each morning…each leaf represented something for which we were thankful.  Many of them said things like, “family”, “Mommy and Daddy”, “Mimi”, and friends.  Others represented favorite loveys and toys.  The kids loved the tree so much that we never took it down.  They visit it almost daily, and still add to it.

When I announced that I would take down the existing leaves to make room for new thankful leaves, they froze.  It seemed to upset them.  After a few moments of silent panic, Riley finally spoke up:  “But I really want to keep the one that I made about our family.  I’m always thankful for our family.”  So that leaf remains in place…because family is the only thing that matters (and, yes, many of our nearest and dearest friends are most certainly considered family.  You know who you are.)

But new leaves are ready to find their branches on our beautiful thankful tree, because there is always a reason to give thanks.

Gratitude happens all year long.  There is no reason to focus our efforts in being thankful on the month of November.

But there’s something about November…

So get out your construction paper and make your Thankful Tree…your kids will thank you for it.

Please consider making a donation to the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army to help the survivors of Hurricane Sandy.  They have a long recovery ahead, and every little bit counts.


About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)


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