As I cut my own hair yesterday (yes, it came out semi-OK; no, you may not see pictures), my son pranced by the bathroom door. He drummed on the wall, sang "Seven Nation Army" and hopped from one foot to another, as cats wove around my ankles. It was one of the best moments of the week.
Maybe it has something to do with hair, or songs. I remember my dad used to wash my hair was I was about David's age. He'd speed-wash it in between television baseball innings. He always sang "My Way" while he was doing it for some reason. I had to thrust my finger into the air in accompaniment at "what is a man" and "took the blows" and he'd rinse it on the final line. I have no idea how the ritual got started, but I ate it up. I'm aware that a million different people have a million different associations with that song, no doubt a great deal of them having to do with loved ones. Me? I remember strawberry shampoo and warm water trickling down my neck, and being lifted off the bathroom stool to run in and watch the rest of the seventh inning.
I've been thinking about happiness -- how to build happiness, how to make a husband and son happy, how money doesn't buy happiness (but since lack of money sure as hell prevents happiness then it kind of does), memories of when I was most happy. More to the point, I've been stressing about it. Like seriously, just sitting and stressing. Breaking an actual sweat. Please, Internet, I would like to know how to force my family to be happy. How to be happy myself.
I feel like we waste our time. David used to be so embracing, ready any time I wanted to have Meaningful Family Time. Now, he's aloof half the time. What if we piss it all away and then he's a standoffish teenager and then we never get to act lovey again? What if my husband and I forget completely how to be romantic, until it's all nose picking and open-door peeing and why can't YOU run the dishwasher for once? It's already the end of 2009, and I haven't packed nearly enough meaning into this year yet.
I say I'm easy to please. Don't take me on fancy trips. Just be in the moment with me. I like the simple things. But the thing is, I demand the simple things. I'm EASY TO PLEASE, DAMMIT, I tell my husband. All I ask for is for you to be HERE WITH ME, right NOW. How much more easygoing do you want?
The thing about happiness, in the be-with-me, isn't-this-moment-all-misty-and-wonderful, wait-you-think-it-isn't? What-the-HELL-then-why-aren't-you-MAKING-it-that-way sense? It's a luxury. I worry about it when the material necessities are taken care of and going well. If it's between relating to my family in a kind tone and making sure I have running water, I kick them out of the room and call the utility company.
Things went pretty well for the first half of this year for us. My husband was making decent money. We'd just bought our house. I looked to be close to bringing in regular income.
So, naturally, we had regular intervals of behaving miserably toward each other. We worried. And stressed. And yelled. We're doing FINE; we kept hollering at each other. Why can't you just be HAPPY with that?
Well golly-gee, I wonder why?
Now, things are decidedly not hunky-dory on the material front. Our bills are paid, but just barely. I'm still "close to bringing in regular income." My husband's job ... let's just say he's not leaping in the car each day. He's obscenely overqualified, but no one else is hiring. We cannot afford to do anything that isn't free. Sometimes, we can't afford that, if it costs too much in gas to get there.
So, naturally, we're the happiest we've ever been as a couple and as a family.
It's not denialism, either. (We conquered that once we realized that avoiding your bank statement doesn't make the pathetic figures any better; it actually might make things quite a bit worse.) I think it's the same thing that made us feel so ridiculously into each other in high school. It's us against this Big Thing.
We've stopped trying to MAKE each other happy, and we've been making each other very happy. Shockingly, those moments happen even if I don't demand them. I was surprised to find that my husband likes them just as much. I think he was quite surprised himself.
We go to the preserve (it's free!) on telescope night. David squeezes into the observatory and talks to the astronomer about Mars as he peers into the viewfinder. He's bathed in a red glow as he lectures bystanders about Mars's moons, which he knows from a board game we play at home. I used to play the game with my own parents, and only just recently stopped being a know-it-all about Phobos and Deimos.
My husband, son and I walk to the park in fading orange and pink light. My son plays on the equipment like he used to when he was littler, when I was dating my husband and we'd take my son to the park on thinly veiled dates for ourselves.
A lady with filthy dogs crosses our path. David loves on her dogs and talks to her. It makes her evening.
We go back to the preserve, and the geese mob David as he tosses our mesquite seeds. A heron barks and takes off in slow motion, waving more than flapping its massive blue-gray wings.
Back again at the preserve, my husband and I spend an entire morning stalking and watching egrets and herons. Just the two of us. It was his idea. We whisper-yell to each other from our hiding places in the reeds and bushes as we try to capture the egrets in flight and joke about how geeky the herons look head-on with their rosy drumstick legs showing. We're going back tomorrow.
He woke me up last night to tell me that the roadrunner was back, sleeping on our neighbor's meter box. He knew I'd want to know.
Time's slowing down. Just a little. But it's definitely better.