By Ann Imig

I looked up from my computer, expecting to see Nine holding the pack of gum I keep in my purse, or the new bag of potato chips from the pantry. He had nothing in his hands.

“One of what?” I asked, peering around my computer screen.

He pointed down on my desk to a small silver box originally intended to hold playing cards. It had once belonged to my Grandma Jo.

“Seven had one,” He continued.

“What do you mean, he had one?” I asked, no closer to understanding what my son was begging for, nor why he’d interrupted my work.

“He ate one yesterday.” Nine opened the box and started reaching inside. I shooed him away.

“Son, that’s paper. Your brother ate paper? We don’t eat paper.”

“But he had one!” Nine’s pincers aimed again toward the tiny strips of paper inside the silver box.

You see, on my therapist’s advice, I had taken to practicing gratitude— practicing gratitude. Not just feeling grateful, but making it an active verb. So I took a self-help book suggestion, creating a box to stow the names of people or things that made me feel grateful. When I remembered to, I took a moment to jot down a little gift from my day in the name of a helpful colleague, dear friend, or one of my idols doing their part to nudge me along my path. I wrote mini prayers of thanks like “working body,” “warm house,” or “dark chocolate with sea salt,” on slivers of Post-it notes, and added them to the box. After some days, the box contained a veritable potpourri of slips of paper extolling my loved ones, happy places and peaceful moments. Maybe snack mix is a better metaphor, considering that my children had, apparently, been noshing on them.

The children ate my gratitude.

Having already eaten all of my bread, cereal, peanut butter, ice cream, minutes, patience and sleep, one by one the boys were snacking on their nana, my mentor Deb, above-zero wind chills, their daddy, my girlfriends, dry martinis, our housecleaners and my sanity. Over the years, I ‘ve pried coins, Legos and marbles from my kids’ mouths, but with a 7- and a 9-year-old, I assumed us safely past that stage, “The boys dress themselves, and siren songs from the bathroom no longer define my days. Seven creates custom rainbow loom action figures, and Nine graduated into the Black Belt training program that requires a uniform complete with an adult-protection apparatus, not to mention nunchucks. “They still play Legos, improvising spoken dialogue, and like me to sing to them at night (as they tackle each other and argue, while I scream BODIES TO YOURSELVES in between lines of “Goodnight, Irene”). “Their made-up jokes and curious questions fill us up far more than they deplete us (unless you count rides to extracurricular activities, money or arguments over Minecraft minutes).

“Son,” I told him. “You guys are old enough to know not to eat paper, “The answer is no, and don’t ask me again.”

“They didn’t ask me again. Only just the other day I noticed the lid of Grandma Jo’s box ajar, and “cucumber eye cream” dangling precariously over the side. Who or what got plucked from their bed of silver and deposited into my kids’ esophagi, I’ll never know. Just in case, I sat down and added a new “Seven” and a “Nine” to the collection.

I think I’ll go count my blessings.

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