The Rockwood Files: What’s wrong with this picture?

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3


When our middle kid Jack was in Kindergarten, he and his dad had a Sunday morning tradition. They’d flip to the back page of the comics in the Sunday paper and try to find the six differences between two similar pictures in the Slylock Fox cartoon strip. It was a race to see who could find all six differences first.

Brain teasers like that one have been around for a long time because they tap into something people do almost automatically – we notice “what’s wrong with this picture.” I don’t know if it’s human instinct or something we’re taught as we grow up, but we’re all pretty good at it. Give us a field full of daisies and we’ll notice the one dead flower in the middle of all that glorious yellow. Our eyes are drawn to the flaw, the thing that’s a little bit off, no matter how insignificant.

We do it in our lives, too. We look at a career full of wins and dwell mostly on the screw-ups or the missed opportunities. We look at a healthy body that works just fine, and we notice how the belly isn’t as flat as we want. We focus on what are mostly minor aches and pains.

In our homes, we see floors that need new carpet or a kitchen that needs new appliances, and we miss seeing everything that’s right – like strong walls, a solid roof, warm rooms, hot showers, and a fridge full of food – basics that many people around the world don’t have and probably never will.

As people who’ve been blessed with so much, Thanksgiving is just the kind of “kick in the butt” holiday we need. Because it forces us to take off the “what’s wrong” goggles that magnify every imperfection and, instead, marvel at all the things that are so wonderfully right. And there are a lot of them.

Granted, it’s easy to forget about the good stuff sometimes. Our constant news culture finds the horrible, the weird and the controversial and serves up a piping hot dish of it during every hour of the day and night. Good news is harder to come by, but it’s equally important.

When we strip life down to what matters most, it’s easier to see what’s right with the picture – family, food, safety, health, freedom, love. Sure, it’s good to strive for things to be better. But if we never notice how good we already have it? Well, that would just make us jerks. And ungrateful jerks are the worst kind.

So… here’s to all that’s right with the picture. Here’s to the carpet stains that remind us what a luxury it is to have carpet and food and drinks to stain it with. Here’s to the belly that’s no longer as firm as it once was and to the babies it allowed to grow inside us. Here’s to the thousand little “wrongs” that only prove how “right” we’ve got it.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of