Boy, I don't know. We had such a strange mix of stress and happiness this weekend. An enormous dump truck dropped off twelve cubic yards of mulch on our driveway on Wednesday. I told the kids if we got it spread around our little baby plants, we could go to Busch Gardens on Saturday. Everyone worked hard Wednesday and Thursday, some much harder than others, but everyone worked. I hoped that Sam would be able to stop work a little early on Friday and help with the shoveling and the wheelbarrow pushing, because I wasn't sure we'd be able to get it done without him.
But then our toilet literally started erupting and we called a plumber who not only discovered our main line was completely clogged, but the pipes connecting our disposal to whatever strange and mysterious underground sewage tube that takes our leftover food away had completely broken off. Buckets and buckets full of rotting food had been gathering under our house for who knows how long. Buckets of rotting food and flies and mosquitoes.
The plumbing was all fixed without incident, but poor Sam—poor, poor Sam—had to spend hours underneath the house cleaning up what essentially amounts to barf in our crawlspace.
So I had to shovel thousands of shovelfuls of mulch all day while he did the grossest thing imaginable. We had four tickets to the John Williams symphony that night, which Sam really wanted to go to ( Indiana Jones and Star Wars music is his kind of symphony), and I didn't know how we would make it.
Then, miraculously, right as it was time to go, Sam came up and said he'd done all he could do without completely ripping up the plastic underneath our house (that will have to be done soon...), and he showered and took three of the kids to the symphony and they had a great time. Shaemus was so happy to meet the following characters:
And we managed to spread all that mulch. So on Saturday, Busch Gardens was the place! We had a wonderful time. The weather couldn't have been more perfect, and no one seemed to know that but us, so it was not very crowded (for Busch Gardens). That sure seemed like happiness.
Then yesterday, I observed something. My kids were happy at Busch Gardens. They were happy at the symphony. They weren't so happy mulching, but they were happy when it was done. But probably one of their favorite things of the weekend was the knife throwing they did with their dad on the front lawn.
One of the fifty dangerous things you should do with your kids is throwing a knife into the ground to see if it sticks. Sam decided to give this a go last night. Holy Cow, was this a hit (with everyone but Mary who could give or take knife throwing). Give kids a box, they are happy. Give them a few table knives and tell them to chuck them at some grass, and memories are made.
Throwing knives with their dad on the front lawn made them happy, maybe even happier than Busch Gardens.
I also know that I was not happy yesterday. There are various reasons for this. The messy state of our house was not the reason for my unhappiness, but it was manifestation of it, which makes no sense, but that's how it felt.
Books were everywhere (my fault, yes). Papers were everywhere. Shoes were everywhere. Dirt from gardening all weekend was everywhere. Mary made a delicious dinner and devastated the kitchen. This prompted in me enormous feelings of guilt: she worked so hard to make the dinner, but should she clean it up? Because I sure didn't want to. And a lot of the mess was preventable.
I had to take a break. I had to go upstairs and lie down and calm myself down because everything was tensing up and I was about to lose it. Worse than I had already lost it.
Once I was done taking a break, we had an extended family meeting. It began with upset me talking and talking and talking. It ended with two words we'd chosen together that we all felt would bring our family a great deal more happiness: Responsibility and Respect.
As I rambled, my anger fizzled away, and I realized that I didn't want my children to have a bazillion rules they had to follow to avoid punishment. I didn't want them to clean up after themselves because they knew they would get in trouble or because they felt guilty. I want them to clean up after themselves because they have respect, respect for the rest of their family and respect for themselves. I want them to be polite, responsible human beings who recognize that the two seconds it takes to put a book back on a shelf are nothing compared to the rewards—a calm, happy home, a calm, happy mother, less chaos, more love, more sacrifice.
Big Plans by Bob Shea is, in my opinion, one of the funniest picture books ever.
We ended our family meeting by all shouting (not in unison, because like that would work), "I got big plans, big plans, I say!" and now, whenever, someone turns out a light (another part of our discussion) or picks up after themselves, they may happily shout, "I'm in!" said the Myna bird."
Because "Being in" on a big plan does bring happiness, I think. A sweet, deep happiness that we all felt at the end of our family meeting. I know Shaemus felt it as he turned off a light in a bathroom a few minutes later and shouted, "I'm in!" said the myna bird."
Happiness can be many things. It can be Busch Gardens and accomplishing a giant task or going to the symphony or being done shoveling barf, but I think it is often the simplest things of all.
(Like knife throwing. Or shouting nonsensical things from a picture book. He he.)