Contemplations from Kim: An Invitation to Gratitude
By Kim Wargo, Head of School
November is, for me, a time to think about gratitude. Eighteen years ago my family started a gratitude practice.
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November is, for me, a time to think about gratitude. Eighteen years ago my family started a gratitude practice. This practice was born out of the first Thanksgiving we shared after Hurricane Katrina.
We’d only been back in New Orleans for a few weeks after almost two months exiled from our home. We’d returned to New Orleans in mid-October to find the National Guard patrolling the streets, the Red Cross delivering hot meals, refrigerators piled in the medians (or “neutral grounds” as they’re called in New Orleans), and people everywhere picking up the pieces of their lives.
We’d returned to our daughter’s fourth first day of 2nd grade.
She’d had her first one as planned in late August 2005 at the school where my husband taught and where I was the Head of the Upper School.
As you know well, 2nd grade is a tough year for a dyslexic child. We were fortunate that she was in a school with skilled teachers who understood her – her strengths and her challenges. We were fortunate that she was receiving science-based reading intervention for her dyslexia and occupational therapy for her dysgraphia and fine motor challenges. We were fortunate to be right where we needed to be.
And then, all of a sudden, we were in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where we were bunking – literally, in a summer camp facility – with four other families.
Between us, we had nine children aged 3-14, two dogs, a cat, a turtle, and a fish that had been “gifted” to my daughter as a birthday party favor the day before we evacuated. (Freddy the Fish was mercifully “set free” in a pond on our long ride to Tuscaloosa).
Our daughter’s second first day of 2nd grade (a week after the storm) was in the only independent school in Tuscaloosa, whose Head’s mother just happened to be an alum of the school where my husband and I worked.
We soon realized that we wouldn’t be going back home any time soon. Cell service was dodgy, and I learned how to text on a flip phone with 9 buttons. Somehow my Head of School got in touch at the beginning of week 2 of our evacuation and told us she was setting up a “war room” in Houston, courtesy of a fellow Head who was offering us a space to work. We packed up the few items of clothing we had, and headed off for our daughter’s third first day of 2nd grade.
Once we got settled into the studio garage apartment generously donated by a Houston family, I quickly understood that the school had no idea what to do with my daughter. Homework became a tear-filled, angst-ridden ordeal, and we basically just decided we weren’t going to worry about it. We knew our daughter needed something different, and it didn’t seem like she was going to get it until we could get back to the teachers who understood her.
So a few weeks later, when our Head of School asked me to go back to New Orleans to get our school ready to open, we jumped at the chance. We hired one of our daughter’s 1st grade teachers to work with her until she had her fourth first day of 2nd grade, on the day we reopened the school in late October.
A few weeks later we sat around the table for Thanksgiving in our basically undamaged home. As I took in the scene – my little family, my sister’s family, my husband’s parents, and mine - I understood (perhaps for the first time in my life) what it meant to be truly thankful.
Everyone in my family had an intact home; the working adults had stable jobs; and my child had a safe, happy place to go to school, a place where she was seen, and valued, and understood. They were such basic things – and yet I knew that so many in my community were living without those necessities.
I vowed, then and there, never to take the essential things for granted. And out of that moment, my family started our gratitude practice. When my family sits down for a meal, each person shares something for which they are thankful.
Even now, when it’s usually just my husband and me sharing a meal while watching our latest series on Netflix or AppleTV, we practice being grateful. I’ve found that this habit forces me to view my day – either in the moment or in hindsight – through a different lens. I think more about what I have to be grateful for. This practice makes me notice when things go right, not just when they go wrong.
This practice has built the community of our home and our family, and I think practicing gratitude can build our school community, too.
So it is in that spirit that I invite you to participate in our Lab School Community Potluck on November 11th from 6-7:30pm.
On this evening, we’ll gather to share a meal together.
All family members are welcomed and invited. We ask that you bring a dish to share that is important to your family. This could be something that has been passed down through generations; it could be a food that is critical to your family’s heritage and identity; or it could be a new-to-you recipe that your family loves.
As an added part of our gathering (and because it is taking place on Veterans’ Day), we invite you to also express your gratitude for the veterans in your family by sharing a photo or a bit of memorabilia. We will create a visual representation of those artifacts to share with our entire community.
As we break bread together, we will express gratitude for this community, and we will share our appreciation for what is going right, even when so much around us is going wrong. In a world filled with such immense complexity and so many examples of darkness, it is important for us to notice and elevate the moments of light.
I hope you will join us on November 11th for a moment to notice and appreciate the light that is the Lab community.
With gratitude for all that we share,
Saturday, November 11
All Lab families and faculty & staff are invited to participate!