Did you ever pitch a “no hitter” day as a mom?
Look, I don’t watch or play ball, but I think that in the sports world, a no hitter is a game in which the pitcher executes every pitch so pitch-perfectly, that the opposing team can’t hit a single one. Or score. Or something. At least that’s the definition I’m going with.
Somedays are tough with kids from the get-go. They wake up too early/cranky/sick/demanding and every move from there on in is fraught with difficulty. These days are exhausting and stressful and leave you craving coffee/wine/a desert island by two p.m.
But then there are these other days. These other, unexpected, golden days. Everything just flows. There are no struggles with the kids or spouse. Maybe there is an errant tantrum, but even that is managed with ease and grace. Difficulties are readily redirected.
Sure Emily wet her pants twice, Jack spilled chocolate milk on his freshly washed gi, and the Hubz was late getting home. It didn’t matter because we were all in this state of blissful relaxation, getting along with one another in such a kind, friendly way. The kids listened and cooperated and even got along with each other! They ate their dinner without complaining, and for once, we all sat at the table and ate the same freaking meal! Oh and also the kids didn’t hit each other, or me, giving a double meaning to “no hitter!” (See what I did there?) These days are total sweet spots. They are the cool spot on the pillow on a hot night. They are a butterfly alighting on a purple flower on a sunny day that is not too hot and not too cold. They are the perfect game.
These are the days you take a selfie with your amazing kids, post it on social media and make everyone instantly jealous because you are living such an awesome existence.
These are the days that keep you going, give you hope and sustenance. They make you feel, even for a little bit, that you are not totally sucking at this parenting thing.
They don’t happen everyday, but when they do. . . oh, man. . . Like I said, I don’t play baseball, but if I did, I can only imagine this feeling I have, tucking my feet under me on the couch at the end of the day with my babies sleeping peacefully a few doors down, is what it feels like to walk off the field after pitching a perfect game.
if i can’t be happy on a walk with my son
as we stoop to admire an iridescent beetle the size of my thumb,
upside down on pavement, waving its frail legs
as if only for my child’s wonderment,
then i will never be happy.
if i can’t be happy listening to his chatter,
if i can’t be happy stopping to indulge in every flower’s fragrance,
if i can’t be happy here and now
then i will never be happy.
we watch a tug boat work itself down the bay with surprising speed,
and my boy asks me where i would want to live, as we plod past
the huge houses and fancy cars with their water views.
envy arises, but then another sentiment clear and bright as his voice:
if i can’t be happy here and now, i will never be happy.
in this moment it is easy to believe and be satisfied
with the movement of my legs along the sidewalk,
with the tickle of sea grass and daisies against my skin,
with my son’s chipper companionship.
in other moments i will struggle
with other words that don’t make nearly as much sense,
with the tantrums of my children and stress of work,
with traffic and time,
with bills and clutter,
with the primal longing for escape.
i hope i can remember there are beach roses that need sniffing,
and beetles who need to be gently set right and placed back on a leaf.
The other night I took Emily to the zoo to a benefit for the local breastfeeding coalition. We meandered through the animal exhibits, but Em was more enthralled with all the babies than the animals. It was therapeutic for me to see all the happy families there having fun together. I smiled at all the baby-wearing moms and dads, thinking this was just what I needed to take the sting out of a day in the social work sweat shop.
The animals were quite active, possibly from the cool, fresh air of the evening, or possibly because there were a whole bunch of people hanging out gawking at them when the zoo was supposed to be empty and quiet and they were confused. Either way, it was fun to watch Emily react to a trumpeting elephant and marching giraffes.
I felt sad I left Jack and my husband at home.
We ran into a friend, and I spoke with her a while. She remarked how big Emily was getting, how pretty and sweet she is. Then she asked about Jack. I rolled my eyes, laughed and went on to explain he is still strong-willed, intense, and giving us a run for our money.
I went on, without any rhyme or reason, to state that it is weird having two children, that it is so challenging.
Most of the time, I said, I don’t feel part of a cohesive family unit because there is so much “divide and conquer”. We rarely experience anything pleasurable “as a family.”
I hope I don’t sound like I am complaining, because I’m not. I honestly wonder, is the “cohesive, happy family” even a thing? Because it feels like something mythological to me. If it isn’t a myth, what do I have to do to make my family so happy together?
The times we force family fun remind me of the scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation when their trip is falling apart and the father says something like, “We’re going to have fun! We’re going to have so much fucking fun we’re going to need plastic surgery to remove the smiles from our goddamn faces!” Through gritted teeth, I try to convince myself, my husband, and the kids that we are having a marvellous time.
I worry that because happiness does not come naturally for me, that my family won’t be happy.
We do have some happy-fun-times together, like the trip to the butterfly garden. But even that excursion ended with me going to the car with Emily, who was tired and cranky, and Jack staying to take photos of the butterflies with my husband. Or the afternoon at our community pool where my husband and I kept switching off which kid we swam with, and I ended up out in the car snacking with Emily for another half hour while Jack finished his swim. The same thing happened when we went to the Children’s Museum.
Maybe it is just reality, but it feels like my family is fractured or missing out on a magical togetherness.
Before Emily, my husband, son, and I were a tightly woven tribe of three. We welcomed Emily into our tribe and I felt our family was complete. Although Jack was not thrilled to get a sister, it was easy to partake in family events as a foursome when she was a baby-lump I could wear on family excursions. Now she is an active toddler with huge personality. Her mobility and noise drive Jack insane! I try to be a good ambassador between the two of them, to model compassion, tolerance, and consideration, but there is frequent trumoil in my embassy. I don’t know how to bring us all together.
My kids are four years apart and developmentally at very different stages. It is even hard to take them to the playground by myself because my fearless Emily runs from me to scale the tallest slide, and my clingy Jack wants me to push him on the swings or play hide and seek. Neither of them want to get with the other’s agenda, and neither get their needs met. We leave feeling frustrated and exhausted, if not in tears.
While we try to provide diverse opportunities for togetherness, it is easier when my husband and I divide and conquer. It works better for my husband to chase after Em so I can tend to Jack, or for me to take Em grocery shopping while my husband takes Jack to soccer.
Sometimes it feels lonely to be off in these little diads.
Other times it feels downright divisive.
I worry about this dynamic.
Upon reflection, I realize the diad that needs more time and attention is me and my husband. We go out to dinner once a month, but the sad fact is there isn’t a ton of team building between us, and while there isn’t any hostility, I’m sure our fatigued disconnect still affects the children.
Emily and I had a good time at the zoo, but my brain was as active as the animals.
Upon hearing my thoughts about my family, my friend patted and reassured me. “You’ll get there!” Gosh, I hope so, but all those beautiful, crunchy, babywearing parents made me wonder , do I measure up? Is this just an age and phase through which families pass or am I doing something gravely wrong? Am I failing to nurture my family’s cohesion and happiness? Am I creating a family where we will grow together, or drift apart?
I don’t have the answers to these questions today. But in my never ending quest to find balance and bliss, I am hoping I will.
My favorite teacher of all time was my English teacher my senior year of high school. Ms. Lee.
She was strict and had very high standards, but she also had a patient, soft side.
When I was in the throes of deep teenage angst over the end of my first relationship, she sat with me for many hours, talked to me with genuine interest and compassion. Something about her suggested that maybe she too had a tortured side, and this was how she could understand without any judgement.
She was quirky and a little mysterious and paid me compliments for random attributes like my knees and eyebrows.
Her presence in my life made me feel worthwhile, intelligent, beautiful, and like there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
She took time with me that no one else did. I had a very small social circle at the time, and felt alone. I had a tendency to shut down and isolate, but Ms. Lee helped me feel connected and conscious.
I kept in touch with her for a while after graduation, through letters and the occasional tea. As so often is the case, we lost contact with one another. A few years back, I tried to search for her on the internet, and also by calling my former high school. I never found her. It has crossed my mind that she would be elderly now or possibly no longer on the planet.
One thing I learned from my high school English teacher, Ms. Lee, was the secret to happiness.
Ms. Lee had a banner up across one of the walls of her classroom. It was printed out on one of those dot-matrix printers that now seem so old timey. In grey pixilated letters, it read: The secret to happiness is having something to love, something to do, and something to look forward to.
Over the years, these words have rung true time and time again. Note that they do not say “someone” to love or look forward to. They encourage self reliance and self esteem. They encourage a person to develop a strong sense of self, to connect with inner strength and confidence.
Over the years, that “something” might change. It has for me. In high school and college, it was dance. Then, in my twenties, I went for a time when I didn’t have a “something” and sort of floundered in depression and weirdness. Grad school and social work definitely gave me something to love, do and look forward to.
And these days, I have my children and family.
I remember a moment so long ago when I thanked her for her kindness.
“Along the way, people have been kind to me, and this is my way of returning the favor.”
In other words, she was “paying it forward” nearly two decades before that saying was en vogue.
I think of her words often. I like to think that in some way I am repaying her when I sit with my clients. Many times I repeat her secret of happiness to them, and think fondly on Ms. Lee.
What do you think are the secrets to happiness?
Ps, I made the meme at the top myself– my very first!