Have You Ever Been Happy?

I would not say I am a happy person. By nature or by defect, I am often depressed and moody. And it is by knowing the darkness that I can experience its absence with pure appreciation.

There is an almost six year old asleep on my sofa right now. She isn’t feeling well, woke up several hours after her bedtime, and fell back asleep next to me, covered in a baby blanket. Her father is on the other part of the sectional, also asleep. Dateline is on television. I left the room and walked back in, and it occurred to me how happy I am. (Perhaps because compared with Dateline storylines, most of us should be very happy indeed!)

Mothering leaves me unhappy many days–dissatisfied with my children, angry with myself and my reactions, insecure about my ability to nurture three maturing souls. That is not the picture of motherhood I dreamed of; it is not what most of us expect. It is a reality though that our best efforts in caring for, entertaining, teaching, loving our children may leave us without satisfaction for days on end.

And then there is the magic of parenting that we cannot, but try to, describe to our friends about to have their own children. Those moments that, like spotting the first small grey bird on the feeder, or walking home at night under the fullest moon, calm the voices and assure us instantly, inexplicably that all is right.

Tonight, my oldest girl, experiencing stomach pain, repeated bathroom trips, and symptoms of a stomach bug lay on the sofa between her father and me, whining about her distress: “My butt!” And my husband and I smiled at each other, holding in our laughs. I don’t know why. Or why this assured me our little world was intact. Happiness is tricky, but dependable:

…It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

–From “Happiness” by Jane Kenyon

It is a look in when I am almost outside of myself. It is a room buzzing with an air conditioner on a steamy July night. It is a child unable to sleep in her bed, a husband unable to stay awake after work. A laptop on a counter top in an otherwise dark kitchen. It comes when we think it never will.

Happiness itself may not exist outside of singular moments. We question its existence as we may question a God’s. It makes us search a lifetime, and it takes our breath away with a single glance.

This post is also published on Huffington Post.

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This entry was posted in Family Life, It's All About Me, Mental health, New York City Living and Coping, Parenting Moments, Poetry/fiction and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Have You Ever Been Happy?

  1. Beautiful words to describe something so profound and ethereal. I can’t help thinking that what you describe is actually joy, not happiness. I think it’s joy that is the much deeper, inexplicable, and soul-satisfying emotion. And having just had yet another extremely difficult day with a depressed husband, I found a measure of comfort in reading about the joy you describe – I seem to be having those flashes of recognition much less frequently recently. Peace to you. – Amy

    • I am sorry for your difficult day – and for what is likely many difficult days – but yes, you are right: it is joy to know even a moment of lightness. Those of us familiar with pain–most humans!–appreciate fully that satisfaction as you said. Jane Kenyon’s poem is perfection on the subject, I think. (Many of her poems are pure perfection on the subjects of depression, grief, living…) Peace + much joy to you.

  2. Oh my gosh, that is so cool! Yes, we were on Huff Post Live together, and what a great experience that was. I loved that we could hear your little ones occasionally. 🙂 I can now move this sleepless night from the “major pain in the butt” category to the “unexpected joy” category. So glad to run into you again. The next sound you hear will be my clicking “follow” for your blog.

  3. God I love your honestly. It is incredibly rare to find another mother that speaks the truth instead of what they are expected to feel and say. Being a mom doesn’t make me feel accomplished, warm and fuzzy every day. There are definitely moments that make me feel like my heart could explode and like you described they are often at times I would least expect it. Thank you for being “real” 🙂

  4. I applaud your bravery in writing this. I, too, don’t always feel “happy” nor totally fulfilled by being a mother, even though I adore my little girl. I think that might be because intelligent, analytical people are always striving for the next thing, and at least for myself, I find it hard to stay in the moment which is where I believe those moments of happiness exist. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Elizabeth in NC says:

    I love this post, these words. My husband frequently asks me if I’m happy. Well, no, not really. But I’m not unhappy. I have happy moments. I guess I am content. This post puts into words what I usually cannot. Thank you.

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