Memorial Day Weekend: Early morning bus rides, homework, packing lunches – all almost over for another year. At our community pool, gaggles of bikini-clad twelve-year-olds, including my daughter and her friends, scampered by, enjoying the taste of summer freedom even though the temperatures felt more like early April. Toddlers in saggy swim diapers swaggered. Teenage boys threw a football on the grass behind the snack bar. I sat on a lounge chair, half reading a magazine as I soaked in the joy around me. Then, on page 10, Real Simple redirected my attention with a reader challenge: How Would You Define Your Happiest Moment?
How would I define my happiest moment? I held each shiny one up to the light, considering. They were all real and true – the night my husband proposed, the morning I discovered my first pregnancy, the moments when each of my babies locked eyes with me for the first time, the day my dad was declared cancer-free. Each of these moments qualified, but no matter how personal to me, they still seemed a little stale, unoriginal, or overused.
Also, I realized I would define the happiest moment of my twenty-four-year-old self differently than the best moment of my thirty-four-year-old self or of the forty-four-year-old I am now. As I keep moving forward, I won’t believe I may have already passed through my best moment. And, as we are constantly being reminded, it’s so important to recognize and appreciate each singular moment, to be mindful, to breathe it all in. Through that approach, there should be so many “happiest” moments.
Actually, one of those multiple happiest moments occurred just a few nights ago. After a fraught, less than joyful car buying trip, my husband and I arrived home stressed, snarly, deflated. But when I walked in the door to sequestered laughter, my mood shifted, and the night turned sweet. Owen, Claire, and Katie were playing cards, amicably, joyfully even, choosing to spend time together. At twelve, fourteen, and sixteen, they’re obviously old enough to be at home on their own, but whenever I head out the door, it’s always with visions of bickering and unrest within. Or of the slightly lesser evil, three pairs of eyes staring, in communicado, at the ubiquitous screens we all hate to love.
That night, though, my kids were all together in Owen’s room. I didn’t dare interrupt to let them know we were back home. I sat at the kitchen table listening to the commotion above me, knowing it was one of those pure moments that bubbles up, expanding inside you, filling much more than the allotted sixty seconds.
This kind of moment is even more significant and precious than when my children themselves were small and precious. It’s almost sweeter than when they snuggled together under a sleeping bag, or chased fireflies around our yard under a silver summer moon. My joy in their seeking and finding this kind of connection with each other amid the eddies and undertow of their growing independence, during a time when they are usually kicking away so fiercely, is immeasurable. I think and hope this kind of teenage moment sets the stage for the three of them to be friends and companions into adulthood, when the attachment to home that tethers them physically together isn’t binding anymore.
My grandmother was one of seventeen children (yes, seventeen!), and she reiterated often that even though you could love all your siblings through blood and obligation, you didn’t necessarily like them all. Within our extended families, my husband and I have both witnessed siblings who have no association with each other as adults. This has to be one of parenthood’s ultimate heartbreaks. On the opposite end of the sibling spectrum from my grandmother, I grew up with just one brother. Tim was born when I was seven, so we didn’t experience too much conflict – other than my turning his eyelids inside out while he slept to see if he would wake up. Our age gap meant we didn’t have too much in common, either. We reached the various stages of childhood and adolescence at very separate times. He was only eleven when I left home for college, so he did the majority of his growing up and growing away after I was already gone. Happily, as adults we not only recognize and love each other through our shared history, we also enjoy each other’s company immensely as friends. But we never shared card games or confidences on equal footing the way my children can.
My kids have very different but equally strong personalities and, in the current phase, there are so many emotions and hormones to endure, so many transitions to experience. Collective, loving moments of camaraderie seem so few and far between, so fleeting. The kind of “happiest moment” I came home to a few nights ago – the laughter and joy and secrets and support shared by siblings who were, at least in that moment, fast friends – kind of balances it all out.
More than an hour later, I still sat at the kitchen table as the damp May dusk draped its velvet over our house. Katie padded lightly down the stairs, already in her pajamas.
“Oh, hi,” she said with a little grin. “I didn’t even know you guys were home. We’re playing cards. Didn’t you hear us up there?”
Oh yes, I surely did.
About our Blogger:
Elizabeth Dougherty is a freelance writer in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Her blog, Plan Q, chronicles real, everyday experiences and viewpoints — funny, stressful, tearful, mundane — and how they all tie together to define our lives. She aims to make her readers laugh, cry, feel, think, and wonder. That’s what writing and reading do for her, and if she can pass on any of that, then all the twists and turns that whip her right past Plans A through P and land her at Plan Q are more than worth it! Visit Plan Q at www.elizabethdoughertyfreelanc ewriting.wordpress.com or connect with her on Facebook.
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