Remember the Sweet Things
One of the sweet sounds of spring for me is the ice cream truck. In fact, if you want to feel you are providing your child some America version of an idyllic childhood, move to an area where an ice cream truck circulates regularly. This is where our recent move has landed us. Because the block we live on is populated with 10 other boys, the ice cream truck comes often. Of course, we can’t get ice cream every time because I am present to the reality that I want my children to go to college someday—($3.00 for a popsicle!), and I don’t want them to die prematurely from the (illegal in Europe) red and blue dyes that stay on their tongues for hours afterward.
As a result, sometimes the truck’s sweet melody passes us by.
However, last week, as the familiar tune came in from a distance, Owen asked, “Can I get some ice cream if I pay for it with my money?” I agreed. His younger brother, who is stingier or maybe wiser, considered for a moment, and decided against it. Still, he ran after his brother just to watch.
Both boys came back with popsicles. When I asked how, Owen said, “I wanted to buy my brother a popsicle.” He beamed with the feeling of generosity, and his little brother, Ben, glowed with the sudden realization of generosity. Ben promptly went into his room and made a thank you note, took $3.00 out of his bank and brought it to Owen. All of this occurred as I made dinner in the kitchen. When I walked out and saw them in a long hug, I quickly became teary eyed. “This is the kind of family I want to belong to,” I told them.
It was a sweet thing, going on the sweet things list.
I found Remember the Sweet Things, by Ellen Greene years ago. It is book about her loving marriage. She recounts that after having experienced several failed relationships, she didn’t trust herself anymore. Then she met this wonderful man. The others seemed wonderful at first too, and so she decided to do something different. In order to see more clearly, she thought she’d make a list of what good things he did and what bad things he did, so that she didn’t blindly go into another bad relationship. Within months, she was surprised to see there was only one list—and it was very long. She married that man, and the book is a recounting of that relationship, complete with some of her sweetest things lists.
This was around the time I was also reading about the studies done on gratitude and how it helps alleviate depression and leads to a greater experience of happiness. So I decided to start my own Sweetest Things List for my husband.
Anyone who meets my husband, within the first few minutes must think, This is a sweet man. And I’m not just talking about his young Robert Redford good looks☺ which are very aesthetically sweet.
And he is a good person. So doing the sweetest things list was as simple as creating a document on my computer and leaving it on the desktop.
The very first item was about the world’s greatest sandbox which my husband built in our backyard. I was very pregnant at the time, and he built a huge bench so that I could sit comfortably. He designed it so the bench was in the shade. But this wasn’t the sweetest thing. If you don’t know about cats and sandboxes, here’s what I have to tell you. World’s greatest sandbox=large litter box for neighborhood cats. Are you grossed out? Yes, was I too.
However, every night, when I was in bed, so tired from the day, and I’d think, “I forgot to cover the sandbox!”
Do you know what I would do? (I must apologize to those reading this blog who’ve had the idea that I am a better person than I am. You’ve been mistaken.) Here is the terrible secret….I would do nothing. Truly, I would just go to sleep. That is the kind of person I am. Never would I get up out of bed my comfortable bed to go outside and cover the sandbox.
But my husband is different. And the first sweetest item on the list detailed my husband so carefully covering every inch of the beautiful sandbox, no matter how late we got home, no matter the rain. He covered the sand with his thoughtfully purchased rubber tiles—no unreliable tarp here, only perfect puzzle pieces put together, oh so methodically!
Without my husband, the angel boys given to me by God would be playing daily in a giant cat litter box.
And so many of the sweetest things are day-to-day items, that really no one else knows. Here is a sampling:
- —You clean the kitchen every morning just to make it nice for us.
- —When I forgot my bag (AGAIN!) you looked for it and brought it to school, even though it made you late for work.
- —You made up the bed for when my friend stayed over. You got up early, before all of us, and went to get yummy coffee and croissants.
- —Yesterday, I was ironing and you said, “Are you happy?” I was so glad you asked.
- —Jumping the fence, you saved all the kids from the rabid raccoon at Minnehaha park! “My dad is a hero!” The boys cried.
- —Today, when I came to pick up the car, and there were French tulips you bought sitting in the passenger seat. French tulips are my favorite.
- —You read LONG books to our sons almost every night.
- —I scratched the car(AGAIN!) and you sat with me and held my hand while I cried.
- —On a terribly cold night, you carried a gingerbread house home on the bus(2 transfers) and spent almost 5 hours making it perfect.
- —You learned to sew, because you wanted our boys to wear pants without holes.
- —You just emailed me and said you’d pick up the kids at your mom’s. You know I need time alone and you always give me time whenever you can.
- —When I forgot the car at work on the coldest, darkest night in January. You walked and got the car for me.
- —Right now you are whistling “Fly Me to the Moon” while giving Ben a bath.
- —Writing me an email after we fight—you’re always the first to make up.
- —You call me almost everyday—“I’m leaving. Do you need anything?”
- —You took Owen over to the basketball court and you rode in circles again and again and again. Just because he wanted to ride bikes with his dad.
- —You could run a marriage seminar on verbal restraint—-Last, night, I gave Owen tea. You said, “That’s a bad idea” but I did it anyway. Of course, he wet the bed. You had to get up in the middle of the night because of it, but you said nothing! Not a mention of it—Even in the morning, you said nothing! I love you.
Before his birthday, I usually print it out. And yes, he really is that great. But is that my day-to-day experience of him? Not exactly. In fact, the first year, I was stunned when I read the list. With each line, I said to myself, “I forgot about that.” Sadly, I honestly can say I’d forgotten 95% of the sweet things.
Don’t misunderstand. I don’t have a poor memory. If you asked me to recount a list of criticisms about my husband, my mind, if I’m honest, could produce a very detailed list quite quickly. Now, I would never create such a list on paper, or even speak it, because I am humiliated when confronted with my petty, hypercritical self. The criticisms, of course are wholly mine, and they are about me—this I know. But knowing, doesn’t solve the habit pattern. Truth be told, this is the mind I’m walking around with every day. This is the mind with its insignificant criticisms and responses that I “trust” every day, This is the also the mind, if left unchecked, that will destroy all these precious relationships by constantly pointing out what is wrong, or what could be better.
This is the mind that forgets ALL the sweetest things, and is quick to become the expert curator of projected, microcosmic misdeeds. And so, I know the list is not a gift for him, it is for me.
Because without the list, I can easily inhabit a mind that forgets the fragrance of French tulips in the car on a cold February day, the warmth of the perfectly built fire, the beauty of boys falling asleep every night to the sound of their dad’s voice reading, the security of a man who has never lost his keys or wallet, and the grace-filled feeling in being forgiven over and over again without ever having to ask.
Without the list, my mind doesn’t remember a time when each day didn’t start with a soft whisper,
“Honey… the coffee’s ready…It’s time to get up.”
I encourage you to try this. The list becomes endless, and not just with my husband. I have several lists now. I’m shocked to find there is sweetness everywhere, and I don’t want to miss it anymore.