A lesson in filling up buckets

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Kitchen Table Talk

I will show my age today, again, but part of the joy of growing older is learning things from the little ones, so I’m OK with it. On a recent trip to Nashville, my soon-to-be 5-year-old grandson, King, taught me about buckets.


In the middle of a big hug and kiss, King said to me, conspiratorially, “I’m filling your bucket, Gigi!”

A confused look at his parents brought the explanation: His teacher at pre-K is teaching them about invisible buckets, bucket fillers and bucket tippers.

Like Flat Stanley and other elementary school rites of passage, “buckets” weren’t around yet when my boys were learning self-esteem along with their ABCs. According to some internet research, Tom Rath, a psychologist, co-authored with his grandfather Donald O. Clifton “How Full Is Your Bucket” in 2004. It is an adult self-help book.

In 2009, he co-authored with Mary Reckmeyer an illustrated version for kids. Carol McCloud, an early-childhood educator, started what would become a whole series of books, speaker’s tour and corporation on the bucket-filling idea with the children’s book “Have You Filled Your Bucket Today?” in 2006.

In Rath’s children’s book, he tells the story of a little boy named Felix who is having a bad day. Felix spends some time with his grandfather, who introduces the whole idea of bucket filling.

McCloud’s book is more of a “how-to,” with plenty of pictures and suggestions on how to fill your own and others’ buckets.

King’s explanation of buckets was very straightforward. When I asked him to tell me about these buckets he, his mom and dad were talking about, he said: “Everybody has them, Gigi, but you can’t see them. When good things happen to you, it fills up your bucket, and you are happy because your bucket is getting full. You filled up my bucket to the top when we went to see Disney on Ice.”

There are also what McCloud calls “bucket dippers” and King calls “bucket tippers.” These are people or happenings that “tip over your bucket and all the happy spills out,” according to King.

“It’s not good to be a bucket tipper,” King explained, “especially with your friends.”

Gigi leaving on an airplane to fly away on a vacation without him was a definite bucket tipper, he said.

How full your bucket can become must be rather subjective. His full-to-the-top bucket from Disney on Ice suddenly had more room in it when he wanted me to take him to the park.

“I thought your bucket was already full?” I teased him.

“It’s OK, Gigi,” he said, “because when you fill up my bucket, you’re also filling up your bucket, and I thought your bucket needed some more happy.”

I didn’t tell him that a Gigi bucket is constantly overflowing when she is with her grandsons. Best to keep the bucket full in case there are bucket tippers – like time to go home – lurking around the corner.

Sherri Gardner Howell, a former features writer and manager at the News Sentinel and publisher at Blount Today, has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.

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