"Mama, what do you want me to be when I grow up?"
"Happy. I want you to be happy, baby."
That response just flies out of my mouth whenever Nine and Seven ask me that question. I know they are probably asking me for some sort of career guidance, but honestly, I don't care what they do or where they go with it. I just want them to be happy. And safe. And strong. And smart. And clever and soulful and fair and healthy and respectful of themselves (and others) and brave and loving. So I guess it's not just happy I want them to be, but that's at the top of the list.
Which is why I wonder if I am living by example. Do I bring them enough joy every day? Do I show them how to live life with glee in their hearts? Not sure. What I am pretty sure of is that me doing the dishes and hollering at them to HURRY HURRY HURRY UP AND IF I HAVE TO SAY IT AGAIN I'M GOING TO PASS OUT doesn't inspire great joy, nor does it make me seem particularly happy.
I am happy though, and I do respect this life as my only one, and I do know that every day - be it good or total crap - is a gift and that it's far superior to the alternative. But when we aren't necessarily living the dream as we'd imagined it, how do we teach happy? Is it by our living a happy life in whatever form that life has shaped itself into? How possible is that on a daily basis? I try to slap a smile on my face whenever I can, but maybe that's not enough. Maybe I need to be my own student of happy, so that I can lead by glowing example. Is my stress level weighing them down too, just because they are near me? Do I need to do a better job of hiding it all, or of actually not letting it affect my own happy? Yes, probably on both fronts.
Note to self: Exude great joy at laundry and dinner and repeating myself 100 times a day to no desired result. It's still better than the alternative. What if I didn't have those little pumpkins to holler at? What if my life was quiet and clean and devoid of dog hair and backtalk? Would joy seep from my pores then, or would I want what I didn't have?
The trick is that the things that do bring us joy aren't always what fills our day. My girls love cookies and movies and play dates, but their daily allowance of fun is doled out in tiny portions, given to them in between big, time-consuming things like vegetables and homework and please finish up in the shower because you've been in there so long that I'm dehydrated just thinking about the water that's being wasted. And my joy comes from relaxing with family and music and catching up with friends and writing and taking class and laughing with my husband. But those seem to be the little glittery dust particles that float in and out of the spotlight that's focused squarely on the hours spent driving and planning and cooking and cleaning and saying no and teaching lessons and making lists of things to do and then doing those things and repeating and repeating and repeating myself.
But I look forward to those shiny bits. Remember I said once that Thursday is my favorite day of the week and Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because both of those things hold promise of what's to come? I can get through all the muck of the day because I love anticipating the special moments that I know are just a phone call or a tickle or a laugh away. Just knowing that joy is going to be found can bring the happy around. Just knowing is the silver lining in each day.
Granted, when Nine and Seven are bickering, and then one of them starts repeating "NO! NO!! NO!!!" louder and louder to the puppy as he innocently forages in their room for shoes and pencils and socks (i.e. his happy), and the shower is running (see aforementioned cause of drought), and the oven starts beeping because I'm burning the roasted brussels sprouts, and then my husband's phone rings, interrupting our 30 second chance to catch up on the last three days...well, sometimes it's hard to find that silver lining. But I know it's there. I should tap into that content feeling. The peace of knowing joy is around the corner, even when the corner is blocks away and in order to get there I've got to walk barefoot, uphill, in the snow.
Some people don't have happy waiting for them. I do. And my girls do. They have happy woven into every day of their lives and waiting around the corner. And they need to have happy waking them up each morning, and happy taking them to school and happy helping with homework and happy loving them to sleep at night so they realize that even though life is crazy and Mama is crazy and the puppy is crazy, we can all still be happy.
Hence, I've decided to be outwardly happy. As much as I can. I'm going to joke instead of yell. I'm going to smile instead of frown. I'm going to say "I love you" when Nine says "no" to me for the umpteenth time, and when Seven whines at me about homework/chores/dinner/bedtime/brushing teeth, I will hug her.
Time for Mama to walk the walk and talk the talk. Time to give happy and grow happy and teach them how to find their own happy, in - and sometimes in spite of - their lives. Maybe it's as simple as acting like the dog (apart from the innate desire to eat poop). He seems to find great joy in very simple things every day.
So I will be more like the puppy, except laughter will be my stolen slipper. Because "when I grow up" is happening right now, every day, all around us. I can't slow it down, but I can infuse it with as much joy as possible. And hopefully one day, when growing up turns to all grown up, they can look back with eyes that sparkle with happy memories, and joy that lights up their hearts. Which will set my own heart afire.