I heard something interesting on the radio the other day about happiness. Happiness, the philosophical talk show host explained, was different depending on your stage of life. He went on to say that when you are young, happiness comes mostly from thinking about your future. Then, in middle age, it comes largely from being in the moment and living life, often quite hectically, in the present. Old age finally, finds happiness predominately from memories of the past.
I haven’t been able to shake this concept. I find it sad and disturbing. Mostly because I think it’s true. I don’t want this part of my life, where I’m caught busily racing from present moment to present moment, to ever end. I am happy where I am. Yes, I’m stressed out, overwhelmed and run ragged 98% of the time. But I love my kids, my family, my husband, my work, my creative time. I’d like life to go on like this indefinitely. The thing is, I know it wont. I feel the present slipping away from me with each tick of the clock. Honestly, it’s a curse to be so hyper aware of time’s passage. My ardent attempts to suck every bit of marrow out of each passing moment often feels more like a futile attempt to build a lasting sand castle right in the middle of high tide. Try as I may, failure is inevitable.
I remember at the very end of my paternal grandfather’s life, we were all sitting around his bedside celebrating his birthday. He was very old and frail by then, a mere shell of his former self. As the cake emerged with a scattering of representative candles, my maternal grandmother, the only other elder remaining in our clan, posed this question defeatedly to my grandpa. “Oh, Irwin,” she sighed, “Where have all the good years gone?” He smiled weakly, looked around at his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. and with the same sparkle we’d seen in his younger eyes said, “They’ve been replaced by better ones.”
I will never forget that moment. Somehow, my grandfather had managed to keep his consciousness focused on the beauty of what was right in front of him. He had escaped the trap of only living in the glory of the past. As we age, we can lose sight of the good that stands before us and idealize earlier times when we’d been untouched by loss, pain and trauma.
The truth is, there will always be moments of joy, beauty and wonder, no matter what our age. We just can’t ever stop looking for them.
Note to self: when vacationing without children, do not go anywhere particularly kid-friendly. I say this because I’m out in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with my husband enjoying some seriously needed down time. Not much to do. Nowhere to be. Simple pleasures of hiking, biking, moose-watching, and so on. But there are kids everywhere. And each one is cuter than the next. Why? Because they’re not mine. And on top of that, the whole “absence makes the heart grow fonder” stuff is definitely true. I miss my kids.
I miss them so much it hurts. That seems weird to me. Because most of the time that I’m with them I spend fantasizing about being away from them. Don’t get me wrong. I adore my children. But trying to manage a home, pursue a meaningful career, and take care of two young boys is more than overwhelming to me. I want to be the June Cleaver of sitcom fame. But I’m not. I’m more a child-laden version of Mary Richards from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Imagine me, in the middle of a snowy Minnesota roadway, tossing my infamous beret into the air and trying to catch it victoriously while also reigning in two impish little creatures who think it’s just fun to dart into the street between racing taxi cabs. It’s really not a workable scenario.
I really am torn between being a full-time mother and using my time on the planet to create meaning for myself personally. It’s a conundrum in which many of us find ourselves. We gave up lucrative and often fulfilling professions to be moms. We don’t regret it exactly. We know, deep in our souls, that bringing precious life into this world and raising it with care, love and respect, is clearly our highest calling. But that doesn’t help get us through the daily monotony that clouds our psyches and makes us question the reason for our very existence.
This vacation was supposed to help me relax. Help me stop struggling with the big issues that harass me on a daily basis. But seeing all these kids and happy families makes me feel selfish and more like a maternal failure than ever before. Why am I here alone, without my kids, when everyone else seems to be managing exceedingly well with their children in tow. None of these mommies needed “alone” time. They all look perfectly well adjusted, capable and happy. What is wrong with me?
Maybe next year I’ll go somewhere where they don’t allow kids. “Out of sight out of mind” as they say. Perhaps I’ll find a nice all-inclusive adult-only resort somewhere in the Bahamas where I wont feel bad about myself for being there. Of course, there’ll probably be tons of childless women there who wont have c-section scars or cellulite. That might highlight a whole different class of personal flaws for me. I guess maybe I just can’t win.
This being Thanksgiving weekend, I started to think about all the things I’m thankful for:
I’m thankful that my family is well and happy (most of the time).
I’m thankful for garage door openers and TV remote controls.
I’m thankful that my youngest son who was born blind is able to see clearly.
I’m thankful that it’s not 110 degrees out anymore.
I’m thankful for antibiotics.
I’m thankful for Sprouts, Fresh N Easy, and Trader Joes.
I’m thankful my kids love each other (most of the time).
I’m thankful McDonalds is an annual treat for my kids and not a daily destination. (and I’m thankful that my kids are afraid to venture into those germy ball pit areas).
I’m thankful to be doing rewarding work.
I’m thankful on no homework nights.
I’m thankful my kids love and respect their teachers.
I’m thankful shoulder pads haven’t come back in yet. (Remeber Norma Kamali?)
I’m thankful my husband takes an equal role in child rearing (most of the time).
I’m thankful that we have a solid roof over our heads and clothes on our backs.
I’m thankful for a glass of wine every now and again when my children’s whining gets to be too much for me.
I’m thankful for Mr. Clean eraser sponges (Are they amazing or what?)
I’m thankful that my children are out of diapers, done with bottles, and can make their own lunches.
I’m thankful for itunes.
I’m thankful for my mother-in-law (most of the time).
I’m thankful for my laptop which keeps me productive during hours of carpool waiting.
I’m thankful for Facebook which has allowed me to catch up with friends from my youth.
I’m thankful for “Love and Logic” CDs which are teaching me better parenting techniques.
I’m thankful for resale shops.
I’m thankful for no-pudge fudge, Weight Watcher 2 point brownies, and mint Skinny Cows.
I’m thankful that we have family in town (most of the time).
It might sound silly or corny or way too Oprah, but sit down once and a while and ask yourself, “what am I truly grateful for?” You might surprise yourself.