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I’m Happy, Damnit

posted Sunday July 18th, 2010

At 11 this morning, I threw myself down on the couch with a magazine, completely exhausted.

Sophie had been up at 6, shoving her face into mine and then, instead of climbing in for a cuddle, disappearing — which meant I had to roll out of bed and search for her. She gave me a hard time as I tried to alternate unpacking from a week’s vacation with entertaining her, and soon after that, Annabelle showed up, demanding breakfast and an agenda for the day.

Ray took off, returning mid-morning from the hardware store with a rented jackhammer and the goal of digging out the rusted stump of the basketball hoop that fell over in our driveway during a monsoon storm a summer or two ago. He’d never used a jackhammer, so not long after he’d begun, he was back at the hardware store, investing in a sledgehammer to dislodge the now-stuck jackhammer.

Meanwhile, inside the house, I was sorting piles and putting away toys — but not as quickly as the girls took them apart and got them out. Sophie emerged from the playroom in a Cookie Monster costume from a couple Halloweens back, and she and Annabelle raced across the (filthy) wood floors on a scooter intended for outdoor use only, narrowly avoiding hitting me several times. I managed to shower then announced it was time to go to the fabric-by-the-pound store, only to have Sophie announce there was no way that could happen til “Olivia” was over on TV.

At this point, I was feeling a little envious of Ray, slaving in the 110 degree heat — but alone.

I crashed on the couch with a copy of New York magazine. I’m not sure how I got the subscription — I suspect I wrote the wrong number on someone’s Girl Scout order form a while back — but I’ve been enjoying it, on the rare opportunities I’ve had to actually read it. It’s pathetic. I’m a newspaper editor with no time to read the daily paper. My New Yorker subscription is long gone. Even People‘s lapsed and I don’t see the point in renewing it. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a chance this weekend to check out the craft in the back of Parents, a magazine my mom signed me up for before Annabelle was born and which, for nine  years, has continued to show up every month.

You can barely see the unread piles of books and magazines in my house; they are obscured by laundry baskets filled with clothes, craft supplies and Important Papers I can’t find. Somewhere, there’s a Crock Pot I swear I’ll start using.

In short, I’m a disaster. Harried at work, even worse at home. Not sure what day of the week it is or what that noise is coming out of the air conditioner. Do I get enough quality time with my kids and husband? Of course not. And please, try not to notice that it’s been way too long since I had my eyebrows waxed. Whatever you do, don’t tell Ray I was up at midnight blogging, wasting precious moments that I could have used for sleeping to have the energy to chase the kids tomorrow.

Yes, I’m a mess, but never once in the nine years and one week I’ve been a parent has it occurred to me to to ask whether or not I’m  happy. Until this morning at 11, when I opened a magazine while the girls watched Olivia try to open a lemonade stand.

The cover of New York magazine had a pronouncement: “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting.”

My first reaction: jealousy. Great headline, good concept. Very counter-intuitive. Kinda ballsy. All the things I look for as an alt weekly editor, and all the button-pushing I try for in memoir writing, whether I’m doing it or teaching it. Honesty tends to be the best policy when you’re writing about yourself, and with the mom-oir genre, you really want to let it all hang out. Go ahead. Say that you resented little Sophie when she deprived you of sleep; tell the world you let Annabelle stay up til 11:30 on a week night.

But admit that parenting makes you unhappy? That one really caught me off guard.

Slumped on the couch, anticipating a trip to the hot, smelly remnant store with two whiny kids in suburban Phoenix when I once spent my Saturdays deciding which block of Manhattan or L.A. or D.C. to explore with my girlfriends, I read the story and asked myself the question.

The answer: No. I am not unhappy. I am exhausted, frustrated, sometimes disappointed (mostly in my own failures) and often surly, but I am one happy camper, damnit.

And this, I must tell you, surprises no one as much as it surprises me.

I think I was born depressed. I don’t remember a time I wasn’t anxious as a child, and it’s painful to watch Annabelle approach fourth grade with a touch of the trepidation I had at that age. No one was medicating kids in the 7os, so I suffered in silence and did just about nothing about it til I was 30 — engaged, employed and bone-shaking miserable.

The psychiatrist suggested Prozac. Would I have to take it forever? I asked. She was honest. We don’t know how it works, she said. For some people, it flips a switch. You stop taking it, you still feel better.

I took it for a while. I felt better. I would have continued, but I wanted to get pregnant. So I stopped. And I braced myself, waiting for the dark clouds to return. Oddly, they never did — even when I couldn’t get pregnant, even when I had a miscarriage, even when I did get pregnant, even when I was a new mom, even when work got really hard, even when I bickered with my husband.

Even when I had a second child, and this one had Down syndrome and needed open heart surgery.

I’m not saying that I was dancing a jig every day, but I was always able to get out of bed. I didn’t spontaneously weep at the dinner table. I could breath. I was okay.

I’d even say I was happy. I am happy.

I do know that I’m one of those sick-o people who can’t function unless I’m really busy. So the working mom thing — though infuriating, and I’ll admit that last month I warned several colleagues at a staff meeting that anyone who says the working mom thing works is a liar — is a god-send for me. The only times I feel the depression peeking in is when I’m on vacation, but vacations with kids don’t count. Too hectic.

So maybe I’m too busy to be unhappy? Maybe. But I prefer to twist it around, to think that the writer of the New York mag piece, along with all the people in the studies she dutifully researched, are confusing being busy with being unhappy.

Really, folks, buck up. Whoever said that parenthood — specifically in touch economic times, particularly in single family households or double-income ones — was going to be easy? No one told me it would be. Raising little people is an honor and a privilege and it’s also by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’m quite sure I’m not even doing it right.

Maybe it’s the Prozac (still, after a dozen years without it) talking. Maybe I’m just jealous of someone else’s good story. Or perhaps it’s that snotty voice in the back of my head that says from time to time, “You think you have it rough? Try raising a kid who’s got more therapists than friends, a low IQ, and a patch on her heart that could give way.”

It could also be the thought of a dear friend with daughters almost the same age as my own. This friend battled cancer several years ago, and one night not long ago, tipsy at a backyard BBQ, she told me through tears how much she treasures each day, explaining why she gets up at 5:30 in the morning to brush her sweet girls’ hair into perfect braids and dress them in matching outfits, then be at every Brownie meeting, every birthday party, every school event, and teach them to cook and sew and be good people even when she’s been at work all day herself. When I get frustrated, I think of her.

Most likely, it’s the sight of Sophie, asleep on the couch tonight, snoring like a linebacker, holdng tight to her Piglet as I carried her to bed. Or the feeling of Annabelle’s hair as I rubbed her head, singing both of us to sleep.

Tomorrow, those girls will wake up too early and drive me nuts. I can’t wait.

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Tags: Filed under: family by Amysilverman

15 Responses to “I’m Happy, Damnit”

  1. So glad to hear it! Especially as I continue to envisage my future as a mother based on you!

    Silly (yes, I know) but it keeps me from the absolutely terrifying special needs parenting scenarios my depression/anxiety-prone brain comes up with if allowed to imagine without a role model. And I just read that NY article so hearing you state the contrary just made my day!

  2. so true. this parenting thing is hard and crazymaking but I wouldn’t trade it. (I say this as my girl stomps around buck naked except for her sparkly pink crocs, extending one foot and saying, “Cute!”)

    Parents is the stalker of magazines.

  3. I tend to subscribe to the Charles Barkley “I am not a role model” motto (not that I’m as interesting as him, by a long shot!) but still, Kel, I’m deeply honored.

  4. Wow. I get it. This made me cry. This is also my day to day only with my own details and deadlines and obstacles and toys. But somewhere under all of these papers and books and beneath the screaming children and the whining dogs and aside from the sink full of dishes, the over flowing recycling can and the never ending baskets of laundry and streams of bills is the most perfect thing; these kids get up in the morning, play hard all day, get three plus meals a day, and get tucked into cozy beds every night. They are not sleeping in the mud in a tent somewhere, their parents are not gone north to some far off place looking for this exact thing that we have. Even as I write this I know last week’s exhaustion will not be gone before next week’s sets in, but knowing that other moms are trying to balance it all: work, love, creativity, finances, the thermostat setting helps, and that we are privileged enough to have it all, even messily, makes me deeply satisfied.

  5. Buck up, huh? Sounds like the Trish Parker school of psychology. Yesterday, when three security guards had to escort me and my three screaming kids out of the library, I really wanted to quit my parenting job. Just leave them with one of the homeless ladies at door. Your post cheered me up. It makes me happy to know that everyone’s life is absurdly unmanageable.

  6. You’re doing fine! You’re reasonably normal. And honest. And fulfilling your writing passion simultaneously, touching many hearts. You have lots of classy friends. You introduced me to Ray & kathymonkman. I give you an A.

  7. drat! I made a comment (nice and insightful) this morning, but I guess it didn’t show up!

    Thank you for the link, a great read! However there are some things I think the author neglected to mention- any researching on those SAHM’s, or single income families. Also, she didn’t even touch on the whole “me centered” society we live in. If we go through parenting still thinking of “me”, we won’t be happy for sure!

    I commented to my FIL (while my 8 yo was having a HUGE meltdown) that even if I could fast forward to their 18th birthdays I wouldn’t. I learn so much more about myself through them.

    parenting brings the highest highs and lowest lows.

  8. First of all, let me say what a lovely piece this is, particularly considering the sleep deprived state under which it was written. Secondly, let me state that I am not, and never will be a parent, so I have no idea what I’m talking about. But, I can say that as a teacher for the last 25 or so years, it is rare that I actually observe what I would deem true happiness and joy in the parenting process. So from an outsider, it certainly appears, particularly in recent years, that parenting is not all it is cracked up to be (I’m also currently reading Erma Bombeck’s “Just Wait Till You Have Children of Your Own!” which might be influencing my opinion). I don’t doubt that there are joys to parenting that I will never, ever experience, but the current shtick seems to be that of the ever-complaining parent. So thank you Amy, for bringing more light to this subject. I think you are spot on in saying that it is merely the appearance of unhappiness that is being noted. I can say, however, with relative certainty, that I would be a completely miserable parent, and am more than a little content with my adult-only lot in life (at least in my personal life – my professional life is another story).

  9. You are doing it right. Because you know that line in Strunk & White where E.B.White wrote that anyone who thinks they’re a good writer probably isn’t? Good writers are the ones who know how much better they can be. Same for good parents. And I’m glad you’re doing both.

  10. elaine — as usual, you are so wise! i forgot that e.b. white wrote that line about good writers — i’ve been stealing it from him for years, apparently.

    todd — i think parenting is like law-making, the way they always say law-making is like sausage-making: you don’t necessarily want to see it in progress.

    living is ugly. you have to take chances to make it worth it. one of the biggest: having kids. it’s risky on so many levels i can’t count them all.

    but if there was ever a reason to have kids, todd, it would be so they would turn out to be exactly like you and robrt. how lucky are/were your parents?!?!?!?!

  11. Beautiful post Amy. I’m teary and (shock) agree with so much of what you said here. I completely relate.

    It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it, that giving up nearly all of your free time, having two little people (one of whom has special needs) who depend so very much on you, could cure you of depression, but it’s true. I look back on my 20s and think about how much time I spent feeling sorry for myself for a variety of reasons, none of which are very interesting. It was hard when Leo was born for sure, but when he came along, something clicked. And with the second, it was in full force. In a way, there’s no time to be down, you know? (I realize this is completely simplistic and there are certainly parents out there who struggle with depression and their struggles are totally valid and true). But for me it just wasn’t the case. I truly believe my children saved me. It’s just that simple. True, my life is way more aggravating but at the same time, way more fulfilling.

    I’ve been wanting to post about the New York mag piece (I agree-great headline) but you did it so well, I really don’t have to (although by the looks of this comment I guess I probably do have a post in me–oops).

    One more thing about New York Mag–I’m convinced they hate kids and think anyone who has them is an idiot. I really think they love to write about how stupid parents are most of the time. I just don’t have a lot of respect for that pub. But they do run some “sexy” stories that make it hard not to look away. But, grain of salt, you know?

    And wow, BIYB. Sorry.

  12. How did you get to be so wise?

  13. gorgeous, just gorgeous (it took me all freaking day to get on here and read this…and it was worth the wait).

  14. I just happened to read this….will tell you the randomness when I see you. It was a great read! I’ve never thought anything so personal, much less written it for everyone to read. Keep up the good work (ha)!

  15. Yep- it’s hard work but what fun it can be! I feel like parenting is one of the great joys of my life-before I was so selfish and just playing around in so many ways.I’m like you- always low grade depressed with one severe episode that meds for a few months seem to have evaporated. But though hectic and often overwhelming as my life is right now- I am happy and my daughter brings me joy!

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