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Tammy Swift, Published November 16 2013

Swift: Young minds turn intimidation into gratitude

Lately, my Facebook newsfeed has been filled with posts about gratitude.

As part of “gratitude month,” people are publicly professing their gratefulness for everything from their families pets to their jobs.

It’s actually kind of refreshing in a world where thankfulness gets short shrift. Just look at poor, little Thanksgiving. It’s been traditionally sandwiched between the bling-riddled holidays of Halloween and Christmas, its decorations are way drabber (c’mon: earth tones?) and its true message tends to get buried by turkey, football and Black Friday.

I think about how we kids used to kick and scream when Mom made us acknowledge gifts with thank-you notes. “What?” we would think. “Isn’t it practically your aunt’s job to send you gifts? Do I really need to waste my Christmas vacation thinking of three sentences on why these socks changed my life?”

Today, I’m much better about thank-you notes. Heck, I even sometimes remember to be grateful. That was especially apparent last week, when I got to talk to Karla Schweitzer Brewster’s first-grade class at Robert Asp Elementary. (Hi guys!)

As a woman without children, I was actually a little nervous about talking to them. How did you speak to 6-year-olds? Could you use words like “elaborate” or “inverted pyramid?” Children are notoriously honest: What if they asked me how much I weigh? Would they even care about the solitary, introverted world of a writer? Wouldn’t they much rather hear from someone who did cool stuff, like fight fires, train dogs or drive a cement mixer?

Of course, I worried for nothing. They were delightful: bright, interested, full of great questions. Their eyes opened wide when they learned I started writing my first stories at age 6. Before that, I added, I had felt compelled to tell stories by drawing pictures and dictating the storylines to my mother. You could see the lights turning on in their heads: “I’m 6,” they were thinking. “I already draw pictures! I love to read. I could be a writer!”

After that, they lined up to each show me individual portfolios, filled with lists of story ideas and beginnings of actual stories. Some of their tales were hilarious, like the one about an uncle who went fishing and caught someone else’s long-lost fishing pole. Some showed how children are positively affected by seemingly insignificant events like trips to the park with their parents. Many were illustrated by hand-drawn, Crayola-colored images of everything from dogs and baseball games to their own families, living in large, transparent houses with one wall peeled away so you could see the occupants inside.

Genuinely moved and impressed, I doled out as many compliments and words of encouragement as I could muster. “What a beautiful bug!” I gushed. Or: “Is that a cat?” (Turns out it was a football player.) It now seemed preposterous that I had felt intimidated by these little ones. How amazing to be that age again, and to be so open and innocent and full of potential. And I marveled at their teacher, Mrs. Brewster, a veteran teacher who seemed to have lost none of her zest for molding young minds.

But the best was yet to come. As I shrugged on my coat in the back of the room, the little ones came up, one by one. First, one shyly approached me and hugged me. Then another one did. Before long, they had all encircled me in a giggling, squirming group hug so powerful that it nearly swept me off my feet.

I walked out of there with a noticeable bounce to my step. It felt like these kids – who were supposedly benefiting from my visit – had actually benefited me. It had been a rough week, but I now felt restored, amazed, purpose-driven, hopeful.

And for that, I am grateful.

Tammy Swift writes a lifestyle column every Sunday in Variety.