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Where Happiness Is and Isn't

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Tonight my 3-year-old asked me to read him a quick story before bed. So I sat down and opened the book he’d picked out. I’d gotten as far as, “Big brown . . . .” before he interrupted me. “No no no! You need to lie down and be under my blanket.”

So we paused while I arranged myself and the blanket, then re-adjusted to accommodate his older brother who wanted to join us.

For a moment or two I was annoyed. I was thinking of the trip I needed to be packing for, the dishes that weren’t done, the errands that had taken much longer than planned, and a million other things that this week had brought and had left me feeling fidgety and almost gasping for breath. This was supposed to be a quick story. We’d agreed to that before I sat down. “Quick” was not going to happen if I had to lie down and get under the blanket.

But then I did get under the blanket. And I thought about how I wanted to be the mom who took the time to lie down with her kids to talk and read and sing with them at the end of the day. I thought about how I wanted my kids to remember me as the mom who did that.

I love them more than I love the dishes, I thought. And, These are the moments. (This was made easier by the fact that I was currently getting out of changing a dirty diaper, which my husband graciously took off my hands.)

So with one son on one side of me and the other squeezed in on the other, I started again: “Big brown . . . monkey!” I said. The boys burst out laughing. My older son laughed himself off the bed. “Big brown monkey, blue banana . . . ” I continued. They were in stitches. The older one could hardly catch his breath. He staggered into the hallway to tell his dad what was going on.

“No! No!” the younger one said. “It’s ‘Big brown bear!” 

“Oh. Okay: Big brown bear, blue banana . . . .”

On and on we went. It never got old for them. It never got old for me. We made our way through the book slowly, and yet it probably took less than five minutes, including a break to examine their poor sister’s diaper rashed behind and to invite her to join the party.

By the end of those five minutes, I’d vowed to do this every night, to be this mom, to not worry about those dirty dishes or to dwell on the eternal shopping trip. Because happiness is not found in the things that are coming or have gone, it’s only in where we are right now, in being present and letting the past be the past and the future worry about itself.

And then we were done. I bid them goodnight. I closed the door. And I went to find some happiness in whatever came next.

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