One morning not too long ago, I was sitting at the table with the boys while they ate breakfast. Charlie was swinging his feet and waving his spoon in the air; I probably asked him to stop doing both and just eat his cereal, please. And he pointed his spoon at me and said, “Mommy, are you happy?”
I stared at him. “What?”
“Are you HAPPY?” he repeated, taking a bite of cereal. “Right now — are you happy?”
I continued to stare.
“Of COURSE she’s happy,” Henry said. “Why wouldn’t she be?”
Yes. Why wouldn’t I be happy?
I use a lot of words during the day to describe myself — busy, anxious, listening, thinking, working, stressed, interested, finished, behind — but happy is almost never on the list. To some extent, of course, this has to do with the conventions of conversation; when someone calls and says, “How are you?” it’s not really appropriate to say, “Happy!” unless you want them to think you’ve been drinking before lunch.
Which I never do, for the record.
The other day I ran into a friend and said, of course, “How are things going?” She sighed and said, “Oh, fine. Fine! Everything is fine! That’s what I’m supposed to say, isn’t it?” “Yes,” I said, “I suppose it is, but how are things REALLY?”
Not so fine, it turns out.
It is hard to find the opening to say, I am not happy. It is especially hard, I think, when there is nothing really going on that justifies not being happy. You know, no financial catastrophe or lingering illness or collapsing marriage.
Still. Happy is not on my list most days.
Why would I not be happy? I don’t know, I really don’t. I have great kids and a fantastic husband and a beautiful home; we have plenty of money and good health insurance and stable jobs. Our parents are healthy, the kids are doing well in school, the lawn is finally looking good. What is there not to be happy about?
I would not say that I am unhappy. Tired, yes, certainly. Frustrated, irritated, some other words that end in -ated, probably. But unhappy? No. Just not happy. And yes, those are two different things, I think, although I can’t explain that just now, just like I can’t think of those other -ated words that I also am every day.
I don’t remember specifically which day it was that Charlie pointed his spoon at me and asked if I was happy, but I can tell you this for certain about that morning: I had gotten up early, before 5:00 am, to make lunches and check email and possibly start laundry or load the dishwasher. By the time I sat down at the table with the kids, I had been up for close to two hours and had probably drunk close to four cups of coffee. I was most likely making a grocery list or filling out forms for school or making notes about things that absolutely had to get done that day. How do I know all of that if I don’t know what day it was? Because every morning is like that, pretty much, even the weekends.
I can see why someone might wonder if I was happy.
I would love to say that I’m doing something constructive to get back to being happy, that I’m knitting or running or taking bubble baths, but the thing is that I think I only just realized that I was missing happy. I suppose the first step is to deal with all those other things on the list — anxious and behind and frustrated and tired. I think that happy is under there somewhere. At least I hope it is, because now that I know it’s gone I really want it back.