Thursday, March 24, 2011

about complaints and the preservation of happy memories

Life is very tough on my eldest daughter.  As a newborn, she screamed for three straight hours one night because of a bit of gas.  Three long hours and three little toots, and then she was quiet.  By then it was midnight so I was just happy to get to bed, finally.  You can imagine how relieved I was when I noticed, after my second was born, that she had learned to fart while still in her hospital bassinet.  (Oh, the prayers of thanks we mamas pray...)
Now the oldest is six, and still very theatrical.  I filmed a recent meltdown over a sliver of cucumber she was supposed to be eating.  For evidence.  Or as a way to preserve my sanity in the moment, maybe.  Also, I wanted to be able to show it to her later and (hopefully) have a laugh about it.  "Don't put that on YouTube!" she screamed when she saw the camera.  

And then, a day or so later, she changed her mind.  She couldn't deny it; it was ridiculously entertaining. (I put in on YouTube and the family blog.)

See, she doesn't exactly hold grudges, but she certainly wants me to know when something has not gone her way.  At the end of the day, as I tuck her in bed, we say our "thank you" prayers.  We list some of the good events of the day, or the names of people we are thankful for, and you know what L. always does?  She lets me know exactly which part of the day was not to her liking.  "Yes, we went to an amusement park, but we were there for only a short time and sometimes I didn't get to choose which ride to go on and I didn't get the snack I wanted."  Or: "Well, part of it was fun, but other parts weren't good like when I had to do chores."
For L., almost every day is like Alexander's very bad day.  And yes, I am the mom in the background with her head down and one hand on her hip.  Between the two of us, I'll bet my husband has often wished we would both move far away to Australia...
Then there is my second daughter.  Not only did she get off to a great start in the bassinet, but she is still, on the whole, quite happy and content no matter where she is.  She is secure in our affection, that's for sure.  "Mommy, why do you love me so much?  Why am I so awesome?"   During the thank-you prayers, she'll thank God for "the whole universe," or—a favorite of mine from last week: "Thank you that I was born so creative."   Now that's a happy and grateful kid.
For both girls, it all seems to have a lot to do with their level of satisfaction regarding the amount of attention they have received.  Lately, though, I have been skeptical that there is anything at all I can do to help; L. might just be a bottomless pit that can never be filled. 

So what makes this difference between my two girls—or any two people?  For some folks, it's enough to know that they are loved.  Then there are those of us who seem always to be looking for more validation and more attention.  Complaining seems as good a way as any to get it, I guess.  Do we need to know that we have been heard?  Or is it more simple than that--do we just wish everything was a bit more fun? 
I remember reading somewhere that people inclined to brood and have negative thoughts are the same people who tend to complain a lot.  I didn't like to read that and I resent all the time I have spent thinking about it since.  Flarg.*

Besides the obvious--that negativity has the power to ruin the present--I have also had to admit that complaining can also ruin our memories of the past.  Chances are good that if you tell and retell the stories of unpleasant happenings enough times, those are the only things you will remember.  My bedtime conversations with my daughter seem to support this theory, as does my experience during my first week back in India after a five year absence.  All of a sudden I remembered all of the things I had enjoyed during my first visit!  Lovely plants, exotic birds and food, and yes, even certain smells, all of which had been overshadowed in my memory by the somewhat unpleasant (and the other truly terrible) events from that first visit. 

Anyway, I would like to try to remember this little lesson as well as to get some perspectives from others on the matter.  I want to try to remember to shut up more often, and to speak the full, happy truth, whenever I get the chance.  So that's why I have written this down. You know, to preserve it before it got buried under my complaining about all of L.'s complaining.  Ha. 

*We make up cuss words at my home.  Little first-grader eyes peeking over my shoulder as I type, etc.  It's more fun to make them up anyway, try it sometime.

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