Washes of pure joy flutter over me. Sometimes. They feel like the pretend egg we used to crack on each other’s heads when we were young, minus the startling knock with the knuckle part. It feels like the good part--flat palms oozing down the sides of my head, soothing, tingling, and finishing somewhere below the shoulders.
These moments of elation shiver through me like the wet heavy warmth of a dry head of hair leaning back into the rush of a hot morning shower. Or the shudder and swell of heat that warms my insides when I take that first sip of hot tea on a cold morning when I’ve had to get up too early.
These moments are not the result of loads of happy thoughts--the happy math I always think should work but that I’ve learned I can’t count on. My kids are great+I have a nice house=I’m on cloud nine. My husband adores me+I’m satisfied creatively=consistent solid happiness. It’s not that way. It's never that way.
These moments find me. I don’t find them. And they show up in the weirdest places.
Turning left onto the service road down by the Eagle Warehouse on the way to pick up the kids from school? Peaceful loving happiness floods into my heart. Glancing at the jumbled contents of my underwear drawer as I push it shut in the morning? Sparkly sunshine lights up inside. The one last look at my living room before I turn the light off and head up to bed? A cozy rosy glow envelopes me. Granted, that particular left turn happens when I’m facing the East River and Lower Manhattan--the grand sweep of the Brooklyn Bridge and all sorts of busy adorable-seeming watercraft jaunting by, and some of my underwear is pretty, and my living room always looks so peaceful once the kids have gone to bed. But that’s not the point.
The point is that these moments find me not only when I’m not paying attention but when I’m doing the kinds of routine or boring things I’ve spent thirty-nine years avoiding doing.
I’d always thought that I needed adventure to be happy--new experiences, new places, new flavors...excitement. It seemed obvious. Anything but repetition, routine, sameness. Chores weren’t a part of my childhood, and I’ve always resisted standard procedures and tasks--just ask my husband who balances the checkbooks, eats peanut butter and crackers every day for lunch, and remembers to change the bedsheets. Doing the dishes, folding the laundry, even walking the same route to work every day are the kinds of things that used to slay me. I thought I’d die if I had to do them. Surely life wasn’t about these boring tasks--surely I should be striving for more. If only someone could just take care of all of that mind-numbing tedium! I can’t be bothered with it! I should be travelling the world! I should be out chasing happiness.
Every job I tried bored me to tears, once I had the basic systems down. Going into an office building in the first summery days of spring killed me. For years I quit my jobs in the spring--it just didn’t seem natural to ignore the nice weather. I aimed for an academic calendar, so I could be released into summer happiness every June, and ended up being an art teacher who could never teach the same lesson from one year to the next. Who cares if eighth graders learn a lot from drawing their own sneakers? I oversaw that project last year, I can’t get excited about doing it again.
Before I discovered the dubious bliss of academia, I spent one happy summer camping all over America with a friend from college. She approached me with the idea and I quit my job (it was springtime!) and went along--for the adventure--of course. A new campsite every night! Creepy Lonely Lake, Kentucky. Armadillos are Roadkill, Mississippi. Watch out for Alligators, New Orleans. Oh No We Have New York Plates, Idaho...Every night we’d arrive and pitch our tent--lay down tarp, thread long snappy poles through holes in smooth laid out tent...and every morning we’d get up and break it all down. Pull up stakes, unthread long snappy poles, pick up shake off fold up tent, pick up shake off fold up tarp--origami it all into little nylon pouches. Pack up, drive off. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
One morning in a pine-grove outside of Aspen, I got really really sick of the routine. If I’d been a teenager and my friend had been my mom I so totally would have pouted on a log instead of helping out. But I did help. Because we couldn’t just drive off without the tent--and we couldn’t get the tent without breaking it down. And in that moment--that chilly-breathed sharp-piney frosted-toes pre-breakfast moment, I was overwhelmed by the fact that you just do it because you do.
I was years away from having kids then--but I figured that that’s what parenting must be mostly about, besides the love part anyway. The stuff you do because you do. Not because you want to, not because it’s your turn, not because it’s fun, not because it feels good, not because someone might call Child Services, but because you do.
And I didn’t get flooded with joy one time during the three thousand diapers I’ve changed as a mom, and sorting through handmedowns and putting away laundry has never done a damned thing for me (full disclosure: I always wait too long to do those things because part of me is still just a teenager pouting on a cold log on the edge of the campsite)--but something incredible has started to creep in--and it finds me when I’m doing these systematic does-life-get-any-more-regular-than-this?! kinds of tasks.
So I’m less inclined to feel like I should be varying my route when I drive to pick the kids up, and I’m less inclined to resist the inevitable routines of a life with a mortgage, a budget, and three kids in school. Because in the moments when my body and my brain are locked into something ordinary, a window I never knew I had might open. And more of these moments might come streaming in.
And I’m grateful, and I’m noticing--and I’m grateful to be noticing. And I’m trying to capture the feel of it now. Here. Because if I don’t, and if routines become nothing but routines again, I’d never believe any of this could be true.
7 years ago