Bean Counters

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"Bean Counters" by Jake Frost (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2018 Jake Frost. All rights reserved.

Bright and early every morning, at the moment the sun’s rays first break over the rim of the world, my children bound enthusiastically from their beds, declaring: “How happy I am to live in a political state mandating compulsory education! I do so hope this isn’t a weekend, as I have no fonder desire in my heart than to don my uniform, shoulder my backpack, and go to school with my lunchbox in hand — the contents of which I will eat in their entirety, and not just the cookies!”

If this describes your reality, read no further. I have nothing to offer you. If, however, your children meet the prospect of another day of school with, perhaps, a spirit shaded by subtle undertones of grumbling, then I have something that might help.

It is The Bean Jar.

It’s probably a little late in the school year to start The Bean Jar now, but it’s in these waning days of a long school year that I really appreciate the power of The Bean Jar, so it’s currently on my mind and I’ll offer it as a suggestion for next year.

It’s easy, cheap, and works like this: Get a jar, buy a bag of beans at the grocery, then every day after school ask the kids if they had a good day at school. Everyone who did puts a bean in the jar in celebration and commemoration of the good day.

Simple, but it will yield some powerful results.

First, it gets the kids sharing about their days. When I ask: “Who gets to put a bean in the jar today?” or “Who had a good day?” Answers come back like: “Oh I did! Dad, today in school we …” and then I get to hear all the news, which is great. Or, if they had a bad day, I hear about that, which is also good.

Second, The Bean Jar helps in the long haul of the school year. There is a rhythm and cycle to the school year. In the beginning, with new shoes and backpacks and a brand new year full of possibilities awaiting, everything is exciting. No matter how last year went, the first day of the new school year is full of expectation. In that fun time of beginnings, lots of beans drop in the jar.

The luster of those early days fades, but then Christmas looms on the horizon, giving everyone something to look forward to.

It’s after Christmas passes and more weeks go by and you find yourself deep in the second semester, with all the newness and excitement long since worn away, and the end of the school year still too remote to seem tangible, that The Bean Jar becomes your friend.

By this point in the year The Bean Jar has a satisfying heft from all the beans accumulated during earlier days, so it’s ready when the need arises. If complaints surface against the perceived inequities of formal education (rare as such dour observations may be), I lift The Bean Jar and give it a rattle and say something like: “Well, there must be some good things about school, because it looks to me like we’ve had a lot of good days. And I’ll bet there are at least a few more good days still to come.”

And just like that, everyone’s mood is instantly transformed and they skip happily off to do homework with smiles on their faces and sunshine in their hearts.

OK, The Bean Jar isn’t that good. Hey, these aren’t magic beans we’re talking about. That’s an entirely different story.

But really, it does help to remind everyone (myself included!) of the good days past, and turn our minds away from “stinking thinking” and towards the prospect of good days to come.

Finally, all those beans in the jar are a witness to the joy there can be in our “normal” days. It teaches the lesson that “Today is a good day for a good day.” All those beans came from routine days of going to school, yet those routine days yielded the moments that made a good day, a day fit to be memorialized in our Bean Jar. The rattle of those beans says that the makings of a good day are all around us. Amidst the mundane details of our daily humdrum are goodness and beauty and opportunities for happiness. In cultivating the ability to recognize those things, to embrace and enjoy them, and to be grateful for them, lies a habit of living that can transform not just a school year but a life.

Come to think of it, there may just be some magic in those beans after all!


Copyright 2018 Jake Frost

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About Author

Jake Frost is the author of The Happy Jar (a children’s picture book) and Catholic Dad, (Mostly) Funny Stories of Faith, Family and Fatherhood to Encourage and Inspire. He is a lawyer in hiatus, having temporarily traded depositions for diapers and court rooms for kitchens to care for his pre-school aged children. He comes from a large family in a small town of the Midwest, and lives near the Mississippi River with his wife and kids.

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