It’s Ok to Be Happy When Things Aren’t Grate

IMG_3264One key to writing a book is to boil down your overall message into one tiny cube of bouillon. Mine’s pretty simple (and I like to imagine it wrapped up in pretty foil): being a parent should make us happy. And by happy, I mean right now, not in some amorphous deathbed future. Right now, with the dishes in the sink and that sippy cup of milk under the seat of your car that you won’t find until we get an unexpected warm spell in December. Happy. Now. I messed with a lot of other words on the road to happy: fun, satisfied, better, joyful. I like happy, at least for now. (It’s still a draft, right?).

As I write, I’m applying that idea to all the trouble spots readers have described to over the years, and of course to the ones we struggle with at our house: mornings, siblings, homework, screen time, holiday travel… I’m finding concrete strategies, yes, but even more, I’m finding these overarching ideas that apply everywhere. I haven’t named them yet (and I do feel they need a name, and KJ’s Manifesto of Ideas That Help Life Not Suck doesn’t seem to strike the right tone), but I’ve been coming back to one this week in particular.

It’s OK to be happy when things aren’t great.

Some bits of my life and family life are not great at the moment. Not even a little great. I’ve taken some hits this year, and while I’ve been busily making lemonade, some lemons just keep coming. Two of my children are engaged in what seems to be a never-ending sibling rivalry death match, we’ve got academic struggles we never expected, and then there’s just the usual stuff: more hours in the car than ideal, worries about this and that.

That’s true for everyone, right? I mean, sometimes you’re really deep in it, there’s illness or divorce or a sudden layoff or all three—and then you feel what you feel, you do what’s there to do, and you get to the next place. But even just in the thick of our ordinary days, there’s always something, big, small or in between, that’s not great.

It’s really ok to be pretty much happy anyway. Or outright happy, without the caveats. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about the child that’s failing algebra, or the promotion you didn’t get, or—if this is the lens you’re seeing everything through right now—the results of the election. It doesn’t mean you won’t take action to help, to move forward, to make change. It just means you’re able to to bring your best self to whatever’s next, and be happy with all the stuff that comes in between.

I brought myself some big, if shallow, happiness this week by doing two easy things: I washed and deep vacuumed my car (8 quarters and an hour well spent, and I left 4 leftover quarters for the next person), and I cleaned out our pencil cup.

Imagine a life where the only thing in your car cupholder was your coffee, and the only things in the pencil cup were functional writing utensils and a pair of scissors.

I’m living the dream, baby.

Every time I think the phrase “not great,” I remember the time my younger daughter had such a big tantrum over homework that I took her out to the car and told her to sit in it, so the rest of us did not have to listen to her screaming. (I’m reasonably sure I was threatening to drive her to the hospital if she didn’t stop. It was not one of my prouder parent moments.)

While there, she penned me a note, which I found the next day. “I hate you, Mommy,” it read. “You are not grate. You are NOT GRATE, Mommy.”

That’s me. I’m not grate. But I am mostly happy.


Don’t forget to enter the November Big Box of Books Contest. You could win 13 books, and get on the list for my vaguely weekly email about raising a family, having a life and loving (almost) every minute. Plus books and coffee.

2 Responses to “It’s Ok to Be Happy When Things Aren’t Grate”

  1. Jennifer says:

    Well said! Thank you for this. Just scrubbed my car too and felt a surge of elation even though things are not go so swimmingly at the moment. The path to happiness is in the little joys, like being able to breathe in your car, thank you for reminding us!

  2. KJ says:

    OMYGOSH the car. The car cleanup made me so happy. And still is.