Friday, October 12, 2012

"You're only as happy as your least happy kid"

At dinnertime, night after night this autumn, the kids trip over each other to tell stories about their day at school. They interrupt each other; they even interrupt themselves. They don’t interrupt their parents only because we sit there silently listening, nodding attentively but, at least in my case, secretly marveling at the miracle of their apparently unadulterated happiness.

Tim wants to talk about Math League, Writers’ Guild, helping out in the first grade gym classes, an idea for the eighth grade science fair. Holly cuts in to tell us about a recess game, a science quiz, a plan she and a friend made to dress alike the next day.

And while I act like it’s all perfectly normal, as I listen I just can’t get over their contentment. Over and over again, I repeat silently to myself, nothing beats having kids who are happy at school.

Although you wouldn’t know it from our dinnertime conversation, there’s plenty to worry about and plenty of problems on which to dwell, and more than enough sadness and anxiety to go around: locally, nationally, globally. Whether it comes via a friend’s phone call or an NPR broadcast, bad news happens all around us. And somehow it seems impossible that my two children can be so happy right now.

But they are. They like what they’re learning and doing in school; they value their friends; they bear a notable absence of fear. They’re not worried about the price of college or the prevalence of cancer or the fiscal cliff. They’re just….happy.

Yes, it’s remarkably self-absorbed and solipsistic. But, to paraphrase Ferris Bueller, so’s childhood. An acquaintance recently made a comment that I had never heard before, though he claimed it was nothing original: You’re only as happy as your least happy kid.

So maybe that’s what it is. I have plenty to worry about; we all do. Every sentient adult recognizes the peril and fragility all around us. And yet….my kids are happy these days. Really happy. If you’re only as happy as your least happy kid, it’s no wonder I end most days with a sense of peace despite all that I could instead be focusing on. My kids are happy, and so in many respects, I’m happy too. They’ll have darker times and so will I. But this fall, they’ve got math league and community service and dress-alike day at school, and it’s all good. For them, and by extension, for me.

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