A friend from high school jokingly called my little family idyllic during a comment exchange on FB this past winter. It’s kind of become a running gag between the two of us. But it also has been fodder for my overactive and anxious mind.
Listen, though I fear retribution from those mighty gods I don’t even believe in, I’m pretty happy in life right now. That isn’t to say that life is perfect. Or my marriage is perfect. Or my kids are perfect. Or that I am perfect. Yeah, I was laughing so hard as I typed the last sentence I almost fell off my chair. Happy means something different to me now than it did 20 years ago, or 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago. It has nothing to do with perfection. The edges of my expectations have softened, become less fanciful. There can be room for happy even though life also includes mental illness, and IBS, and being broke, and not enough time, and fights with Z, and kids who behave like wild animals.
Happy isn’t a constant state. It isn’t the fairy tale ending. It’s moments here and there. It’s looking across the room and being so attracted to Z that I feel tingly and lightheaded. It’s brushing T’s hair after his bath and smelling his little boy smell and loving him so hard tears spring to my eyes. It’s looking at the delight and surprise in C’s face when he manages to pee in the potty before bathtime. It’s having a group of friends over for a cookout and feeling full and content and a little buzzed as we laze around in the backyard while night falls.
But my family isn’t idyllic. I’m not trying to sell perfection here. Those moments of intense happiness happen a couple of times a day. The rest of the time we are just trying to make it through the muck of life.
Yesterday T called me stupid for the first time. Right after he accidentally smacked my face and knocked off my glasses because he was being wild. Between meals and prep for our little cook-out last night I cleaned our kitchen 5 times before 5pm. Z was annoyed that I got home a few minutes late from a pedicure (The day before I tried to paint my toes. My feet looked like a bloodbath. The poor woman had to scrub the deep crimson color from the skin around the nails before applying the polish even though I’d used tons of remover myself. I am 36 years old and I cannot apply nail polish.). I was annoyed he got home a few minutes late from taking a piano apart (Yes. That is the kind of stuff he does for fun.). Much of the day was far from idyllic.
Life isn’t all GREAT or AWFUL. While Z was on his errand T rested on the sofa (by which I mean he watched youtube videos about toy transformers-we are amazing parents.) C napped and I cooked. Cooking is soothing and fun for me. While Z mowed the lawn yesterday the boys and I were out front where we saw friends and neighbors as they walked by. We even got to talk to a woman whose grandparents had build the house next door to us. Her dad had been born in the house in the 1920s. How cool is that? That stuff was enjoyable, but also not quite idyllic.
When I was a kid…wait, if I’m being honest I need to admit when I was also an adult I thought happiness was a constant-like I live in the city of Syracuse and also in the warm fuzzy glow of happiness. So my definition of happiness has changed, but maybe I’ve also grown up a little. Happiness is dumb luck. It can also be the byproduct of a shit ton of work. That is certainly the case when it comes to my marriage. Same with raising the boys. We fuck up a lot, Z and I. With each other, with ourselves, with T and C. We get angry, we get frustrated, sometimes we give up for a little while. Then we dust ourselves off and try again.
The fear of sliding back deep into mental illness is always with me. I have tools and help around me, but I will not be able to prevent another depressive episode. Hell, this time of year I worry about fall and winter. The anxiety is always worse when the sun goes away. And we don’t have sun from November to March in Syracuse. I know I’ll have weeks where I forget what happy is. When I’ll feel like the air is thick and heavy and it bruises my skin just to move through the day. I know we can work really hard and still find happiness elusive. Or that life can happen, tragedy can steal happiness away. But even during my miscarriage, one of the most terrible times of my life, I remember nursing T and feeling something other than horror and sadness, even if it was just for a few moments at a time. I know that next spring will come. The sun will return And I’m not being all flowery and metaphorical-having the sunlight really does help chase my mental illness away.
I’m happy. Tentatively. But I hope I am not self-satisfied. I don’t think happiness is something we deserve or we’ve earned. It is nebulous and can disappear in a moment. Still, I take it when it comes. I work for it. I don’t trust it to be there. I’m kind of scared of it. Happiness does not look like I thought it would when I was a 23 year old bride. But my life doesn’t look like I thought it would either. And that is just fine.
And idyllic? Oh Jeff, if my family was idyllic I wouldn’t have called my Mom yesterday to tell her that I have been fantasizing about getting a minor and non-life threatening illness that required 48 hours of hospitalization. I told her I certainly didn’t want to bring upon anything terrible with my flights of fancy, but I just wanted 48 hours to myself. In a bed. With someone else providing the meals. I asked her if she ever thought about something like that. She told me she fantasized about 48 hour solo hotel stays…because that was more comfortable. “Oh, I’m keeping it realistic.” I told her. “There is no way in hell I could go to a hotel alone for two days. But the hospital thing is totally within the realm of possibility.”
The building of the boat treehouse continues.
My first trip inside. Z has starting laying the flooring. The boys are going to have a lot of fun up here.
This kid. He is beautiful.
Enjoying the Great American Novel, Quiet LOUD, very early on a Sunday morning. Only enriching and exceptional literature in our idyllic house.