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Happy Happy Joy Joy

All my life, I've been considered more a pessimist than an optimist. Growing up, my mom was constantly lecturing me for worrying about things before there was anything to worry about. She saw me as doomsdayish and negative, an old soul in an awkward kid's body, bringing the happy mood down by several notches with my constant instinct to look for what might go wrong, or what might already BE wrong, with any given situation. I always found it ironic that MY frustration and cynicism toward the world around me caused HER great amounts of worry and frustrated sighs.

I never really agreed with my mom's assessment of me; I always considered myself realistic, not pessimistic. I don't purposely set out to find something negative in a situation, despite my mom's life-long opinion to the contrary. I do, however make a point to arm myself with information and the willingness to act on it if necessary. This could be in the form of verbally communicating some feeling of distrust, dissatisfaction, or worry. It could be in the form of making a choice in my life with which others might disagree. Or, it could be in the form of lots and lots of sarcasm. You just never know. I'm an enigma.

The house I grew up in demanded certain social facades; in a childhood marked mostly by maturity and good behavior, my one tacit rebellion was the refusal to smile in public if I didn't feel like smiling, silently exposing the truth that our family might not be the picture of functionality and bliss everyone assumed. This caused both of my parents much consternation, but I know on some level they understood that they couldn't do much about it. However, this act has had two results: 1.) my family sees me as inherently negative, turning this whole thing into a big self-fulfilling prophecy, and 2.) to this day, one of my biggest pet peeves is when I have a natural, straight face and people see me and say, "Smile!" (Why? If I'm not feeling particularly joyful right that second, or laughing at a joke - or someone's misfortune - , what's wrong with a straight face, people? What? What?) So, because I'm not inherently negative, but because I still insist on having an actual REASON to smile when I'm walking down the street, I end up feeling self-conscious anytime I do point out something that is legitimately negative, or frustrating, or depressing. And sometimes when I'm just being sarcastic (but not jovially), people think I'm being serious. (It's that damned dry wit.)

Someone recently found this blog by doing a Google search for "stress and heartache from children," and once again I find myself asking, "should I be concerned about this?" Maybe my mom has been right all these years: I'm just too much of a downer, all I ever talk about are the bad things, the challenges, and as an adult, the things that cause me to look like a colossal parenting failure.

Well, not today. John's busy season is coming soon, and we decided to take advantage of the last weekend we'll all be at home together by doing something that felt more like a fun outing with the kids than our usual harried weekend division of labor wherein we draw straws to determine who takes the louder and more time-bomb-like child to the less stimulating errand location, and vice versa. We've only taken both kids to a movie simultaneously once before, and since I'm determined to end this post on a sappy happy joyful positive note, I won't divulge any details. Suffice it to say that we've allowed enough time to lapse since that experience that neither of our faces twitched when we considered trying it again yesterday. The stars must have been aligned properly, because not only were our schedules completely open, but both kids took a nap and woke up happy. When we asked them if they wanted to go see a movie, their eyes almost popped out of their heads as their intellects tried to grasp the concept of doing something FOR FUN with both of their parents on a weekend that didn't involve a trip to any sort of grocery store. We explained again about the movie rules - how the movie theater management will call the police and have you hauled to jail without your parents if you get out of your seats, how if you yell during the movie, they will rip out your vocal chords and pin them to your shirt to publicly shame you...you know, the basic movie rules all parents tell their kids. They seemed to think they could handle following all the rules, so off we went.

The beauty of being "pessimistic" is that you set out with low expectations; John and I went in with the understanding that at least one of us would be shushing or walking at least one of the kids around after about seven minutes of previews. So, imagine our sheer and utter ecstacy when both kids sat next to us mesmerized for the entire hour and a half of Curious George, laughing at the funny parts, sharing their popcorn, never once attempting to climb over or kick the seats in front of us or turn the theater aisles into racing lanes. Quinn didn't whine. Bryce didn't have to go to the bathroom. Neither of them yelled inappropriately or tested any limits. At one point we thought maybe Quinn had lapsed into a coma with his eyes still open and locked on the screen, so during the scene where George sees all of the helium balloons at the zoo and runs towards them, John turned to Quinn and whispered, "what's he going to do?" Without taking his eyes off the screen or moving his head from the optimal movie-watching, popcorn-eating position, Quinn whispered his guess in reply: "he's going to a birthday party." I'm telling you, that kid is obsessed. Nobody could call HIM a pessimist.

Look at that! No woe-is-me theme, no chaotic scenarios to relive and deconstruct. No exasperation, anger, guilt, or frustrations bogging down my thoughts. See? I'm perfectly capable of expounding on the good experiences, looking for positives, and simply being content with everyday occurrences. What I don't do, and I won't ever do is present a PRETENSE of happiness and contentment where those feelings don't legitimately exist. And what I also don't and won't do is ignore the things that are sad or frustrating or that bring feelings of complexity that can't simply be smiled away - like guilt, regret, and desire. And I hope my kids learn the difference between society's current definition of "pessimism" or "negativity" and an honest, self-assured communication with the world about one's state of mind. I can simultaneously appreciate the good things in my life and work to make the not-so-good things better over time. If, in my process of doing that, some people find these posts by searching for phrases that would traditionally be considered "negative," that seems perfectly logical to me - because people could also theoretically find them by searching for "chuckle over crazy kid's antics" and "successful travel with four-year-old," which seem pretty positive to me.

It's a complex life lesson, and I hope my example does more than just confuse my kids. Oops, there I go, worrying about things outside my immediate control again. Please don't tell my mom.

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