My oldest can see right through me. He is only 7 but he is almost clairvoyant when it comes to my moods. At times I am ashamed of myself because it seems unfair that he should be so wise in such a way, but then my mother reminds me that kids need to know that their parents are human.
Last night, after a long, tiring day when my husband and I were less patient than we should have been, he asked: Do you like being a grown-up?
As usual, he had cut to the chase. I could read the underlying message like it was a Saigon billboard: You have been miserable today mom! Is there ANY joy in your life?
I dug deep for my most honest, heartfelt answer, because I thought I owed him that. “I am in the happiest period of my life.”
Sensing his confusion, his inability to rectify the joyless woman he had spent the day avoiding with my claim to happiness, I went on to describe my children and husband as the most exciting, loving, and rewarding aspects of my life. I described how I feel when he and his sister build a fort under the apple tree, set up homes for their stuffed animals and tell stories about them, tell jokes to each other that only they find funny, set up obstacle courses, race around on their scooters, and try to catch the groundhog with a skipping rope and overzealous patience!
There is this phenomenon we have dubbed the “Happiness U.” We first read about it in Dan Gilbert’s book: Stumbling Upon Happiness. Dan Gilbert is a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University who studies human inability to assess our own happiness. The “Happiness U” is a set of data that reports the results of a happiness survey. At the very bottom of the U, in the depths of despair are parents with children still at home! He argues that although most parents promote having kids because there is nothing more rewarding, we actually may not be happy.
Not ready to give him the full picture about the challenges of parenting, I told him that kids only see the fun in things, but parents have to keep track of the dangers. Then I pulled out the easy stand-by, story-telling. I told of the warnings my parents gave about jumping on my bed and breaking it, so I jumped on the twin on the other side of my room and it broke with my grandmother sleeping in it! I told the time I was climbing around on the back of the couch while my mother warned I would fall, and I did, and it hurt, and I had to see the doctor. I told of the time I ran out into the street without looking and the look of horror on my mother’s face as an oncoming car slammed on its brakes, just missing me. In all of these stories, I was the care-free kid, and he seemed to understand the vital, albeit un-fun roll my parents played.
I defended that his interests change with time, just like mine. He doesn’t want to play with Thomas the Tank Engine anymore than I want to play Pokémon!
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