Smelly Socks: Appreciation for what we already have

Feb. 6, 2014 at midnight
Updated Feb. 5, 2014 at 8:06 p.m.

My aunt recently told me a story about my grandfather growing up in 1920s in Poland. His family was very poor and didn't have much in the way of toys, much less clothes.

At the age of 7, because his mother had to work all day and couldn't take care of him, he was sent to work on a farm to help his family out financially. There he was, underappreciated, called unpublishable names and at times beaten severely for either not working hard enough or long enough. He lived a childhood without toys, electronics and probably few to no books. He turned out fine and eventually got married, had two children and lived a good life.

But this brought me to thinking about my own children and other children I know today. How do I - in this world of "me, me, me," instant gratification and "I want it, and I want it now," get them to appreciate what they already have?

I try to teach them to be grateful for what they have and still have to sometimes remind them that when they get a gift or someone does something nice or generous for them, they have to say thank you.

And at that moment, they are excited about it and play with it for a little while, but after some time passes, the toy or what have you gets tossed aside in favor of the TV or some other new toy.

There are times when I feel like there is a real lack of appreciation for what they get. By no means do I mean to say that they are spoiled brats and don't appreciate anything they have or are given, but sometimes, they take for granted what is sitting in the bins or closets of their rooms.

So while I wouldn't be putting my kids out to work daily on a farm (although there are days I think this wouldn't be such a bad idea, especially in the summer), I did decide, while writing this column, to take away their toys - with the exception of a few - for one afternoon.

All TV, Netflix and electronic devices were now out of reach, and I left them with Legos, paper and pencil and a cardboard box for an afternoon and told them, "now, go play." I didn't get involved in any petty arguments of "he took this; he hit me first," or "he wrecked my Lego."

I let them deal with it themselves to see how they would resolve their fights and how their imagination would work in coming up with things to do. And to my surprise, when I didn't get involved, the fight didn't seem so monumental. The issue was forgotten, and the Lego battle continued.

Well, wouldn't you know it; the Legos were conquered first. They made cars, castles, battlefields and catapults. With the paper and crayons, I helped them make up bingo cards; they rolled two die and used pennies for markers on the bingo boards. This provided much enjoyment because it was something new.

When they got bored, I told them to go read - which in Charlie's case meant looking at the pictures and making up his own words. Now, granted, this idyllic existence didn't last as long as I would've liked, and the nagging for TV and my phone started fairly soon after the newness of this project wore off. But I stuck to my guns and didn't give in, even though for me, it would've been easier to have them sit like zombies.

I loved listening to their interaction even if it was peppered with a few screams and punches. To me, it meant that they were using their imagination, and that made me happy.

I know that our times and our situations are different than what my grandfather and even my father grew up in, but I am at least trying to instill in them somewhat of a sense of gratitude for all that they do have.

They will never experience the harshness of what my grandfather experienced growing up, but I will try and teach them to appreciate what he went through for them.

Anita lives in Chicagoland with her husband, two boys and two dogs, one of which is a girl. Email Johanna Bloom or Anita Spisak at



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