Mornings are dark and the heat is on. Here we are, zipping up our little ones in bulky parkas before school, shivering as we watch the too-cool older ones eschew a coat. Once again we barrel toward the end of the year and of course the holidays, starting with Thanksgiving next week for us in the United States.
I grew up in France and discovered Thanksgiving when I moved to Texas as a teenager, but I didn’t grasp the deeper layers of the holiday until much later, after I married. My husband loves to cook and his enthusiasm for Thanksgiving is deep-seated, leading our multicultural family to establish our own tradition. Like many households, we’ve recalibrated the holiday away from its colonialist origins. We gather with loved ones and enjoy a homemade feast, but we also remember the Indigenous populations displaced by settlers (here in Washington, I live on Puyallup land). But one thing that remains steady with custom is a focus on giving thanks—for the abundant, delicious food; for each other; for our good fortune. The practice never fails to ground me in gratitude, a state of mind that feels both desperate and radical in these unprecedented times when existential anxiety is at an all-time high, as we flail from economic and societal woes to climate panic and despair over what world we will leave our children.
Giving mindful thanks reminds me of something I learned as a new mother. Fifteen years ago, overwhelmed with a newborn, sore nipples, and a newfound inability to get anything done, I wept with frustration to some seasoned mama friends. “Count the good things,” one said. “At the end of the day, make a list. And put everything on it: you took a shower today; you folded half a load of laundry; your baby smiled; your baby napped for ten whole minutes.” Focus on the accomplishments, however small, not the failures. Focus on the tangible and enjoyed, not the lacking and longed for. After that advice, whenever I became overwhelmed by motherhood, I counted the good things and it helped. When the pandemic hit and lockdown parenting became relentless, I counted the good things. When life’s stresses seem insurmountable, I count the good things.
Practicing gratitude forces us to examine life through an altered lens, not unlike the fresh perspective that young children bring to our lives, unjaded as they are to the world around them. Stories in this issue of Literary Mama explore the many facets of gratitude: appreciation, awe, acceptance, and more. Joy blooms in gratitude; moxie and hope too. Research shows that people who are intentionally grateful tend to experience less anxiety and depression and enjoy greater well-being.
But do you know that reading also reduces stress? In reading, we become happier, less anxious. As the holidays ramp up, with their sled full of mama to-dos, it is my sincere wish that reading this new issue of our journal and its wondrous array of literary work from diverse mother voices will bring you joy and peace. May it count as one of the good things on your list.