Archive for the ‘happiness’ Category

Next week, we have two important milestones – my oldest graduates from high school and my youngest two graduate from 8th grade. These milestones have created for me a tumult of memory.

I remember vividly putting my son on the bus for the first time. He was happy and proud and excited and puzzled at my tears. I did not plan to cry. But the tears flowed none-the-less. I remember when my girls “graduated” from Montessori. I most certainly did not plan for tears, but the tears came none-the-less.

I was shocked at the quiet that came when I put all three of my children on the bus for the first time. And that’s when I realized for the first time, nearly 10 years after becoming a mother, that motherhood is so much about letting go….


First day of school for the girls… could they be any cuter, these three?!

Next week also marks the umpteenth anniversary of my mother’s death – she has been dead for more years than she was alive. Her time here was finite and short; the time without her has been infinitely long and grows longer with every passing year. She saw none of her children graduate from anything – not grammar school, not high school, not college.

I am the oldest girl in a family of three girls and my mother had been dead a year when I graduated from 8th grade. After my mother’s death, we had hired a housekeeper – today, she’d be known as our nanny. Her children lived with us during the summer. It was a chaotic time, but what I loved about that first housekeeper was that she expanded our family with her family just as ours shrank incredibly. My mother’s side of the family endured significant losses in the next few years – both of her parents died two years after my mother; her sister, my beloved Auntie Ronnie, died eight years later, also of cancer (like my mother). Ronnie, like my mother, left three small children behind. My adolescence was a time of chaos and loss and grief and discovery.

Our housekeeper had heard stories of how my mother had made my baptism and first communion gowns. She volunteered, for whatever reason, to make my graduation dress. I thought it was pretty.


8th grade graduation – clearly I had entered “the awkward phase” of adolescence…

During the ceremony, a classmate leaned over and suggested that the sleeves were ripped. They weren’t ripped – they were loose as per the pattern. I was annoyed and embarrassed. I don’t know what possessed this classmate to point out a perceived flaw of my dress during the ceremony. But my middle school experience was full awkward moments so it’s no surprise that the ending of it contained one was well.

And next week, I witness all three of my children celebrate these milestones. My son is very much done with high school. My girls are so ready for high school. And I’m not ready to let go yet.

But let go, I must. It’s all part of the job.


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GiftsWhen I see this table, I see gifts, many gifts. The plates are from my husband’s beloved grandmother Pearl, a tiny jewel of a woman. The glassware, Waterford crystal, is a legacy from my Irish mother; she collected the glasses; I added to it when I got married. The silverware was assembled as wedding gifts. The center candle was a gift from my girls. The table itself belonged to my parents, one of the first things they purchased after they married.

The meal we ate at this table tonight included vegetables sautéed in the chili oil and beriberi spices my son got me for Christmas.

We had a feast of gifts today. It was delicious….

Both my parents died young of cancer. I was young when they died; for a long time, I measured my life in what I had lost. But now, decades later, I see the gifts in my life. And of course, the most important gifts are not yet at this table – my husband and my three children.

In life, it is sometimes appropriate to acknowledge all that we’ve lost on our journey. Tonight, however, I celebrate the many gifts – the people who’ve supported me in my lief, and the gifts they’ve shared with me.

I wish all a merry, merry Christmas and a year full of gifts and gratitude.

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…And it will make them happy?

Before answering that question, let me set the stage. My girls are at the beach with their 15 year old cousin. They’re having a fabulous time, until Lindsey cuts her foot somehow. Unlike most people, Lindsey has somehow figured out how to cut her foot on the top of a toe, not on the bottom of her foot. (My children have always shown immense creativity when it comes to injuries!)

Blood, water and sand made for a dramatic wound. The amount of blood left Lindsey in hysterics. My niece had her hands full, then she noticed Nora was on the verge of wailing herself. So my niece suggested that Nora head over to the nearby playground, to play, catch her breath, calm down, so that the lifeguard and my niece could tend to Lindsey.

Nora ran off for all of one minute. Then she raced back to her sister. “Lindsey!” she shouted. “Look – I have an inchworm to make you feel better!”

And it did.

So when faced with hysterics, find yourself an inchworm. It’s just the thing for calming down hysterical little girls. At least in my world, it is!

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“All politics is personal,” so the quote goes. The decade of the “aughts” – the 2000s – is known in some circles as “the lost decade,” the decade where our nation elected a president based on the ruling of the Supreme Court, lost a surplus, gained a deficit, held prisoners of war without charges, saw the vice president of the United States advocate torture as official policy.

For me, the “aughts” also represent my first decade as a mother. My son was born in the waning moments of the 20th century, arriving nearly two weeks early and in time to ring in the New Millennium.

His life has been my joy. Motherhood has been one of the best jobs I’ve had in my life. Not perfect, not easy, by any stretch of the imagination, but rewarding in ways I never could have imagined.

My son is 10 now, a tall boy, eager to do well in math, learning a musical instrument, loving legos, exploring downloads for his iPod. He already knows how to use a computer (something I never touched until my early 20s.) He’ll never experience an “album” but will create his own playlists on his iPod. He’ll never roll down a car window manually; he’ll probably never drive a stick shift.

When I was his age, the great enemy of the US was the USSR, a nation that he’ll only read about in books. The solar system held nine planets, not eight. Pluto was big enough in those days to be thought of as a planet, not as the “dwarf planet” we’ve come to know today.

When I was his age, the twin towers in New York stood tall over the American landscape. Terrorism existed, yes, in other parts of the world.

My son’s world is different than my world was when I was 10, but the basics remain the same. Doing one’s best is how we should approach our activities in life. Family and friends remain a much-needed staple in a successful life. Looking forward into a future that will bring inevitable changes to the world we know today, I wish for a safe, secure and successful environment for my children and my children’s children.

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It is astonishing that school will start in two days. My baby girls will become big girls, kindergardeners. My first-born will start 4th grade – and we’ll see his tenth birthday before 2009 ends.

As a child, summer was once a lazy season, drifting over me like the white puffy clouds drifted through the blue sky of summer.

Today, summer flashes by faster than Usain Bolt’s world record sprint. Faster than a hummingbird’s wings. Faster than a flash of lightening in a summer storm.

Our summer was fun – filled with activities – summer school, swim team, swimming lessons.

We went to Navy Pier and witnessed the magic of theater and the thrill of the Navy Pier rides.

My son and I went to Great America, where we enjoyed the thrill of the American Eagle.

We went camping on Rock Island in Door County and experienced swimming, a beautiful beach, fishing, the worst storm in two summers and even a snake bite.

Summer flashed by – never boring, filled with events. But when did summer become the swiftest season to pass?

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The NY Times had a piece the other day called “Happy Like God,” which I read, because it would be a pretty awesome thing to be happy like God. The essay is by a philosopher named Simon Critchley who appears to be a fan of floating on water. His focus on happiness centers around a quote from Rousseau’s autobiography Reveries of a Solitary Walker. Here is the Rousseau quote, for context:

“If there is a state where the soul can find a resting-place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate its entire being there, with no need to remember the past or reach into the future, where time is nothing to it, where the present runs on indefinitely but this duration goes unnoticed, with no sign of the passing of time, and no other feeling of deprivation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or fear than the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely, as long as this state lasts, we can call ourselves happy, not with a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul.”

Rousseau is describing here his experience of floating in a little boat on a Swiss lake, and how nearly perfectly happy it made him feel. I’ve been to Switzerland and it is certainly landscape that provides much food for the soul. Mountains soar to the heavens; the lakes are a blue that only God could create; the air in spring is crisp and clear. It is certainly a place where you can fill your soul with the beauty found on earth.

Critchley finds Rousseau’s quote to be “as close to a description of happiness as I can imagine.”

I, on the other hand, find myself stumbling over the words “where time is nothing to it,” and realize that clearly, Rousseau was never the caretaker of small children. When you care for small children, there is never a moment when “time is nothing.” As a parent, time is full. Very full. Full of work deadlines and registration for school next year and soccer in the fall and searching for a key photo that was placed somewhere it wouldn’t be lost – and thus is lost…

Then I googled Rousseau and discovered that he had such time for such reveries in nature because he had persuaded his lover to hand over their children (five, I think) to the foundling hospital after their birth.

And I think that happiness defined by a man who abandoned his children is not very real at all.

I think about solitude and the lack of it in my life – and the occasional yearnings I have for a bit of time to think, to ponder, to empty myself of all responsibility. Then a little voice asks, “when are we going to go up and play a game, mom?” Or, “I’m hungry, what can I have for a snack?” Or, “I’m stuck on this math problem, can you help me?”

I’ve come late to motherhood, so had time to think and philosophize before the rigorous demands that come with that job. And though I love floating in boats on calm, tranquil lakes, I’m not fond of doing it solo. Silence is golden, but the sound of my children’s laughter is my treasure. (The sound of their fights – another story, for another time…)

I’ve had my moments when I think of how my career would be propelled by having more time to devote to it – but a child calls – she is sick – she needs my attention – she needs my love. My son has a performance at school tomorrow – he needs me in attendance – and I want to go to watch him, to support him, more than anything.

And I think about Rousseau – and his happy state of being all alone in his little boat, tuned into nature, to the world, to God.

And I think time is full, when a parent and solitude is very rare. Life as a parent is full of all sorts of things that Rousseau never knew or experienced, because when he became a parent, he decided to give his children away.

I’m not a famous philosopher. I don’t have time to be one. I can’t ponder the elements that add up to happiness because I’m too busy right now.

I’m old enough to know, however, that what Rousseau defines as “a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life,” is to me something very rich and very wonderful. In my life, the things Rousseau threw away – children – certainly intrude on my ability to pursue my solitary endeavors – but I know with all the depths of my soul that because of my children, I’ve been granted “a complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul.”

Something the great philosopher Rousseau would never experience at all.

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