happiness

I Know That You Know (And When You Know That I Know, Still There Will Be Magic)

I love this season of innocence. Even when it’s not so jolly. This weekend we cut down our Christmas tree and I was reminded of the look on Owen’s face in a picture I took last December, a picture I now love.

I was reminded of how hard things were mid-December, last year. How un-jolly it all was, during that particular week. And nothing tragic or life-altering happened. Rather, life happened. Sickness. Deadlines. Tantrums. Rejections. And then I was reminded how Christmas, still, ended up being magical.

This week a friend and I briefly chatted over email about the difficulties that come with parenting when so much in the world seems wrong. Bigger wrongs than colds that will end. Deadlines that will result in paychecks. Tantrums that exist because we’re lucky enough to have a child. Rejections that happen because I was able to write some words on a page. But it’s hard to appreciate the beauty of the holidays when beauty is so very much lacking elsewhere. So many elsewheres.

But kids, they make it easy. Easier.

They make it harder, too, yes, but mostly easier.

This week we decorated our too-big Christmas tree (if you turn sideways you can walk from our entry into our living room). And when we were nearly done, I looked over to see Owen sitting on the bottom step of our staircase, staring at the tree with the most content smile on his face. His eyes reflected the tree lights like something out of a Hallmark special. All was right in his world. All was bright. Despite.

I know Sophie knows about Santa. She doesn’t know I know. She’s not ready. She’s guarding the knowledge tight in her fists, much like she does when she hunts for fairies. She’s unwilling to let go.

At first, this bothered me, She’s 7. I had it all figured out at 5. In one fell swoop I learned about Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. The sadness was slight, that of a soft sigh. And then I relished in knowing a secret my siblings did not. I felt grown-up.

The boys drill me about Santa constantly. “How does he get down our chimney if it’s closed up?” “How does he sneak around the hallways of apartment buildings and hotels?” “What about kids who don’t have a fireplace?” “If books say Santa goes all over the world then what about people who don’t celebrate Christmas? How is he going all around the world if many people in other parts of the world don’t celebrate Christmas?”

I half-answer. Change the subject. Wish they would just come out and ask, “Is Santa real?” And when they do I plan to answer as my parents did. “What do you think?” I’ve learned that coming to conclusions on one’s own always softens the blow.

But no one asks. Not the boys. Not Sophie. Sophie doesn’t even ask questions about the Big Man anymore. She answers the boys’ questions. She has an answer for everything. She’d scream his reality from the rooftops if she could. And so I let her. That is her realization to come to. Not mine to take. At least, I hope that’s the right thing to do.

And when they know, they all know, and they know that I know they know, I’ve learned this: I’ll still find magic. Because even with all of our life’s little wrongs and the world’s big wrongs, there’s so much magic, and innocence, during the holidays.

There’s the taste of bacon-wrapped chestnuts and buckeye candies and fancy cheeses we don’t normally buy and champagne. There are candles and white lights and colored lights and twinkly lights and just so much light. There are thoughtful gifts, homemade gifts, the gift of time spent with those we love. There are three kids singing the wrong words to Christmas songs while I play on our out-of-tune piano, rusty in my memory, missing notes. There are messes. So many big, beautiful messes. Christmas cookie-making messes. The mess of pine needles everywhere, always, no matter how often we water the tree. The mess of wrapping gifts in brown paper and decorating them with stickers and markers and glitter pens. The mess of making a quadruple recipe of Chex Mix and the mess of addressing too many Christmas cards and the mess of extra coffee cups in the morning when family comes in from out of town. And with those messes come the hugs. So many hugs. Great-grandmother hugs. Grandparent hugs. Sibling hugs. Aunt and uncle hugs. Parent hugs. Cousin hugs. Niece hugs. Husband hugs.

So during the holidays, I let in cheeriness and maybe even a little cheesiness. I let in some make-believe. I let in some sappy moments despite the realities both at home and out in the hard, beautiful, cold and light-filled world. I let myself soften while watching a little guy sit on the steps and stare with a small smile at a decorated tree. I let another little guy question me incessantly about the logistics of Santa’s big night. I let a 7-year-old think that I think she still believes.


“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”
—Norman Vincent Pe

Happier

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The boys didn’t nap today, which doesn’t make any sense because they didn’t sleep well last night. The weather, however, was thankfully, unusually warm so right about the time we were all ready to kill each other we put on our shoes and coats and walked to the small park down the street.

We were having a lovely time at the park … until I looked at Sophie climbing up a ladder and noticed that the back of her pants were soaking wet. She didn’t even tell me she had had an accident.

So I told her we had to go home. I reminded her that she was almost 4. “No, we cannot come back to the park after we change your pants,” I said. “I’m not very happy with you right now,” I added.

Halfway home she ran over to some grass and picked a dandelion (in January). She spotted another. “No,” I said. “We’re not stopping every 10 seconds to pick dandelions and pinecones. You’re soaking wet. We have to go home.” I reminded her that I wasn’t happy.

We walked for a little while as she clung to her little dandelion.

“Mama?” she said.

“Yes?” I said.

“Do you know who I picked this dandelion for?” she said.

“Who?” I said.

“You,” she said.

I thanked her. We kept walking.

A few moments later she said, “Does that make you just a little bit happier?”

It is so difficult to be mad at her sometimes.

“It gives one a sudden start in going down a barren, stony street, to see upon a narrow strip of grass, just within the iron fence, the radiant dandelion, shining in the grass, like a spark dropped from the sun.” —Henry Ward Beecher

A Typical Tuesday

“A child is a curly dimpled lunatic.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Welcome, Spring

Today included:

• breakfast at a table that also held a daffodil in a glass baby food jar

• short sleeves, no jackets

• muddy knees (for everyone)

• open windows next to diaper pails

• the dreary work of clearing out last summer’s sad leaves from budding beds

• a long-awaited inaugural ride on the shiny, new, pink (why of course) tricycle (a Christmas present)

• chalk on the sidewalk, play set, outdoor chairs, tree trunks and (regrettably) the boys

• the sweet surprise of perennials planted by our home’s previous owners popping up

• a later-than-usual bedtime because of time that got away from us while (finally, finally) outside

“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.” —Rainer Maria Rilke

Today, I Am a Happy Storlanee

This morning started off like most mornings in our house. I was upstairs getting some baby wipes when Sophie ran to the bottom of the stairs and screamed, “James is peeing all over Tucker!”

I found this statement to be odd because (1) I had left James in his high chair, (2) James was wearing a diaper and (3) I couldn’t imagine Tucker just sitting somewhere, allowing himself to be peed upon (well, OK, maybe I could but still).

I ran downstairs. There was Tucker, underneath James’s high chair, liquid dripping on his head and all over the carpet beneath him. The liquid, though, was coffee colored. Most sane people, at this point, would think, Oh, my coffee spilled. I, however, thought, Why is James’s pee brown?

Of course it was my coffee. An entire cupful of coffee. It had spilled all over my laptop, my cell phone, a pile of receipts and our laminated cotton tablecloth (one strike against laminated cotton—spills don’t get sucked into fibers rather they slide off onto carpet). And now it was dripping onto Tucker’s head who didn’t care because he was licking up every drop he could get.

Now, before anyone is alarmed by the fact that, at this point, I wasn’t alarmed that coffee had also spilled on my son (James), please know that I no longer drink hot coffee. I make my coffee and tend to someone. I pour my coffee and tend to someone. I add creamer to my coffee and tend to someone. I move my coffee mug into whatever room I’m in at the moment, and tend to someone. And so on and so forth until I actually get to sip the coffee, in which case it’s lukewarm at best but usually cold.

I ran to the kitchen for towels while Sophie asked, “Mommy, why is James peeing on Tucker’s head? Mommy, why is there so much of it? Mommy, do you see it on Tucker’s head? I’ll clean up Tucker’s head, Mommy. Oh my gosh there’s so much of it!” (That “oh my gosh” is totally my fault by the way.)

I wiped—James, the laptop, the cell phone, the table, the receipts, the carpet, Tucker’s head.

And then, I poured another cup of coffee.

And then, the sun came out.

And then, a miracle happened.

The doorbell rang. It was Darlene. From Campbell County Sanitation District No. 1 (SD1).

Backstory: About a week ago we received a letter from SD1 informing us that the sewer line in our front yard needs to be replaced. They kindly told us that, after the four days of construction, they would fix our sidewalks, reseed our grass and haul away any trees that needed to come down. This was terrible news. We have—and our neighbors have—very large, very old, gorgeous trees canopying our houses. In addition, we have a beautiful dogwood that blooms late June and quite adequately blocks our view of the gas station when sitting on our front porch. I was crushed.

As such, I became The Crazy Tree Lady. I called SD1. I talked to our neighbors. Anytime I saw anyone with a construction hat on our street, I ran outside and questioned them. (As such, people with construction hats always crossed the street before passing our house.) I know, if the sewer line is broken, it needs to be fixed. But I also know I love those trees.

Back to the miracle.

Darlene was at my front door. Along with another woman who I had pleaded with earlier this morning. (When I had run out to talk to her she said, “You live in that house, don’t you.”) Darlene said they were rerouting the sewer line to save the trees. She said it was going to be more expensive, and would require two new manhole covers in the street, but, she added, “We like trees, too.”

I was shocked. I squealed out loud. I said, “thank you, thank you, thank you” over and over again. When they left, I did a little dance and squealed again. “What, Mommy?” Sophie asked.

Without thinking I said, “I’m a Happy Storlanee!” She smiled. And then I laughed.

You know you are deeply entrenched in your children’s lives when their language becomes part of your everyday vernacular. For months now, Sophie has called someone who is filled with joy a “Happy Storlanee.” For example:

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After Sophie was done tickling James, she said, “Look, Mommy, he’s a Happy Storlanee!” (And, as you can see in this picture, Sophie was, too.)

I have no idea where this came from. Or why. But I love it. Andy does, too.

This morning, when dealing with a dog covered in coffee and a possibly broken laptop and cell phone (don’t worry, Andy, they work fine), I was not a Happy Storlanee. But right now, writing this while my children nap, the sun shines through the window and our beautiful trees prepare for spring, I am.

I hope this day finds you a Happy Storlanee at least once, too.

“Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” —Nathaniel Hawthorne

Beads and Wings and Funny Hats

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Venturing into the world of make-believe is much more fun with a friend.

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” —Dr. Seuss

Lucky

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“Most human beings have an absolute and infinite capacity for taking things for granted.” —Aldous Huxley