Fighting for Happy

Sunday I took a train into the city and the first subway I’ve taken in a year and a half to go and meet my great-nephew. He is so adorable it’s hard to put into words what it’s like being with a happy alert baby – already 9 months old, sitting up and grabbing things, pushing buttons, putting Cheerios in his mouth, what a fun age! I swear he looked at his mom and said Mama, which he says all the time but it seemed intentional. He’s even cuter in person than he is on Zoom. I realize we’re all better in person than on a screen, but for a baby this is especially so: the soft skin, the way they smell, the sounds of delight, the little hands reaching out, being with a baby is a source of such unadulterated joy, and I’m so glad I made the trip to meet him and see his wonderful family.

It’s a good antidote to home. V has been having a lot of rough days and I feel caregiver burnout especially acutely as we get closer to summer.  He still isn’t going in the yard. We don’t know yet how he’ll fare at the beach and if that or other outings will be a regular or rare occurrence.  I am determined to have more joy in my life, to not have a summer like last year, or even close. I may not be able to get away but I will find ways to enjoy what we have: a big shady yard, a pool up the street for laps, a vegetable garden that at least looks promising.  More short bursts of pleasure.

In my bi-weekly support group (Zoom of course) we go around and give brief recaps. A rough week, I tell them, not wanting to go into the details then or now. And a visit to the city that was great. I have few opportunities to share in this context, with other moms who get what it is like to care for someone who has severe behaviors or other challenges that require hypervigilance, and yet I feel at a loss for words.  The other day I broke down in tears and it felt good to have that release. But even in this setting I don’t want to be too negative, because things aren’t all bad. We all have our tsuris yet find ways to carve out moments of pleasure and that feels like a triumph for us all. I am fighting for happy I say in conclusion.  

What does that mean? It means not listening to some idea about what brings happiness (Satisfying well paid work! Great vacations! Beaches and parties and friends to enjoy it with. That last part is key though, about friends) and instead finding it in the little things. Boy, I hate that sort of advice when I’m feeling down. And yet, there is some truth to it. I realize this as I’m taking a break from the endless housework by listening to an interesting podcast and eating leftover mango curry, the spice and heat modulated by the creamy coconut milk and mango, the way the rice sops up the sauce, the crispness of fresh vegetables. It’s delicious. Activating my senses and brain after what feels like hours – it isn’t, it just feels that way – of clearing out the chaos that are the morning routines of an autistic young man and an aging none too gracefully dog. Odious morning, happy lunchtime!

And I’m trying to see the benefits of those tedious tasks. On Wednesday I Iost nearly 50 pounds and it felt great! Vietnam Vets came and took it away, 6 bags of clothing it had taken nearly a month to winnow down into the “keep”, “throw away” and “give away” piles. I was tougher this time, throwing out beloved tops that had holes or stains, giving away some really nice things I just never wear. I see myself as having fewer clothes than most women but there is that attic….the “maybe” piles go into bags and stay there, and after a few years I finally decide that “maybe” is a “no”, and let it go. Surely someone else wants a barely worn maroon jacket with great pockets or one of the five nice scarves I haven’t worn in as many years.

It was in some ways an enervating process and yet it felt so freeing when I was done.  Could I see it as an act of generosity as well as one of letting go? The things in poor shape go in the trash, the nicer things go in bags for others, and after weeks of living surrounded by stuff, by decisions to be made – should it go or should it stay? the bedroom is cleared and I feel the lightness from taking it all outside the front door, happier still when the huge truck pulls up and takes my belongings away. 

When I want to feel a moment of joy now I look at the photos I took of my great nephew, or stare at the green bean stalks growing from seed, I watch or listen to something really joyful and fun. T turned me on to this brilliant mashup. In viewing it you will understand why Fred Astaire’s favorite partner was not in fact Ginger Rogers but Rita Haworth, magnificent to look at here. Among the thousands of comments from its 10 million views are people who say they watch this every single day to put a smile on their face, so clearly I’m not the only one trying to get over rough patches. Here’s to fighting for happy with all our strength.

8 thoughts on “Fighting for Happy

  1. Hang in there Joan. I fill my Instagram with animal videos (I’m partial to owls and beavers). It grounds me and makes me smile everyday. Love the Fred Astaire video


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