More of the Laundry of Life

Call it coincidence, but the New York Times is beginning to seem like it might have an axe to grind (I’m sure to many people, particular the politically conservative, it seems like the NYT has MANY axes grindin’ away, and this would be one of its most inconsequential).  First there was Tim Kreider’s blog post (mentioned here), where, as he ruminated on what he called “The Referendum” he observed that

Judging from the unanimity with which parents preface any gripe about children with the disclaimer, “Although I would never wish I hadn’t had them and I can’t imagine life without them,” I can’t help but wonder whether they don’t have to repress precisely these thoughts on a daily basis.

Then there was Maureen Dowd’s latest column, which poses questions about the relative happiness (or unhappiness) of women, in which she reports:

“Across the happiness data, the one thing in life that will make you less happy is having children,” said Betsey Stevenson, an assistant professor at Wharton who co-wrote a paper called “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” “It’s true whether you’re wealthy or poor, if you have kids late or kids early. Yet I know very few people who would tell me they wish they hadn’t had kids or who would tell me they feel their kids were the destroyer of their happiness.”

You could extrapolate plenty of different things from this, depending on where you stand (the childless might feel confirmed in their childlessness, parents might find themselves thinking to themselves about the virtues of their state), but what I choose to take away from the discussion is this:

Happiness is infinite and mutable.

I know this sounds particularly saccharin, a little new-agey to boot.  But.

Once, I derived a considerable amount of happiness from spending my Sundays lolling in bed, coffee close at hand, reading the New York Times cover to cover.

It was lovely.

If I still used yardsticks such as that to measure happiness, yeah, I guess you might have to say … we’ve got a problem here.

But maybe a better way to look at it would be:  in our younger days, happiness was singular, self-absorbed.  What else could it be?  Who else did we have, but ourselves?

Once, I loved (among other things) laziness, naps, the luxury of hours in which I had to do little but think whatever I wanted to.  Twenty years ago, on the eve of Hurricane Hugo, I sat on the back stoop of a shoddy rental on Avenue A in Austin and watched the way the trees were being flayed by the wind, the darkening sky.  Bob Dylan was on the turntable in the house, behind me.  Yellow light fell through the screen door.  I had a cigarette in one hand. I ate when I wanted, slept when I wanted, and the only thing that demanded anything from me was a job I didn’t even have much invested in.  I was… completely… absolutely… happy.

Now I think about that place, that time, that feeling,  nostalgically, the way you think about the house where you grew up.

I don’t have the happiness of living in that feeling anymore; but there are others.

I could give you clues about the latest developments in our adventures in parasites by posing the (not- quite) rhetorical question — who picks the nits off Mom?

I’ve got this to contend with:  IMG_2413

(that’s unfolded but clean laundry, there about three more loads to go).

Somehow, it’s up to me to figure out how to use straightened coathangers to make Pippie Longstocking’s braids stick out (this year’s Halloween costume).

I already know that this afternoon’s homework assignment will mean blood and tears.

None of these things, taken individually, make me happy.  But am I happier than I was before I ever dreamed they’d be part of my life, when all I had to do was think about what caused me happiness or unhappiness?

You bet.


  1. At least at this stage of parenthood (i.e., the stage where the kids are still kids), the first category I put people in is “has kids” or “doesn’t have kids.” I’m overstating that quite a bit, but I do think the kids/no-kids divide is a large one for people with young ones. I’m not saying I don’t like people who don’t have kids or think everybody ought to have kids–not at all. I just mean it’s less likely I’ll share much common ground for very long with people who don’t have kids. Exceptions apply for people I knew well before I became a parent–those relationships are already established and solid. But if I meet a childless person of my generation who otherwise has a lot in common with me, I can have a good talk and good fun with that person, but he or she probably can’t understand why it’s unlikely I’ll have the freedom to meet for coffee (or whatever) again for several months, why I can’t hang out and play guitar, why I can’t go see Richard Thompson at the Mucky Duck, etc. I know it must get lonesome for those people, married or unmarried, whose friends start having kids while they stay childless.

  2. Amen to all that sister. I am totally with you. And now with older kids in our lair, I see the connections we have on so many levels and it feels good. And happy even. I just flew to Boston with my nearly 12 year old daughter. Just the two of us. And all the while I was thinking, “damn this is fun!!!” and happy happy happy.

    Thanks for the reminder. We all need it.

  3. Happiness is a weird thing isn’t it?

    I know the responsibilities of parenthood often make me unhappy. It’s possible I have fewer moments of happiness than I did pre-responsibility. But the happiness I do feel now is very different. I still have moments alone when no one needs anything from me where the world is perfect and amazing and music and the light and coffee make me as happy as I think I can be. But they don’t hold a candle to the kind of happiness I feel when one of my kids gets excited about something they’ve just figured out or gives me a hug or has one of those amazing, happy moments of connection of their own.

    Am I happier or less so over all? I don’t know. I don’t really care.

    I would like to see the questions those surveys ask. I think they’re loaded.

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