I can clearly remember those insanely hot summer days where the only place to get cooled off was in the pool while my mother and her neighbor friends sat inside in the air conditioning playing mah johnng, and all of the kids splashed happily in the pool until the sun started to set. The 1960’s were a different time. Most mothers stayed home and fathers went to work. My mom was a “homemaker”. My dad was a highly functioning alcoholic. I guess I was happy. Probably about as much as anyone else I knew. But I did know that I always felt like my family had this big secret. When someone in your family has a ‘drinking problem’ it is the family focus. It’s the white elephant in the room. Of course, at that time, I had no idea that I wasn’t the only one. No one talked about this stuff. Oprah didn’t exist to administer advice on self help remedies for all the maladies of the world. Fortunately, although I was practically almost an only child, I had my imaginary friend Smokey the Bear and all of my creative projects to keep me going. I don’t ever remember being bored. And there were the massive murals I drew on the hallway linoleum and the bedroom walls. (yes my mother, not only allowed it, but, encouraged this expression- when you’re surrounded by artists, this is not terribly unusual). We didn’t have 3 million TV channels to watch. No cell phones. No handheld devices to entertain us. No internet to explore. Our explorations were tangible. I’d ride my bike around the neighborhood for hours on end and my parents didn’t have to worry about where I was going or for how long. I built my own treehouse by standing on top of the swing set and feeling so proud when it was done. I made my own Barbie camper out of a shoebox and pipe cleaners because my parents thought $11.00 was too much to pay for it at the toy store. Depression era parents are a different breed than the parents today who shower their offspring with massive amounts of nonsensical possessions that end up at Goodwill anyway.
Those were the days. And looking back on it now, my mother was probably not experiencing the same sense of joy and freedom that I was but she did her best to shield me from the daily shit she endured.
It went like this. My dad went to work, then he went to happy hour (an oxymoron in some sense), and if he wasn’t too drunk when he got home my mom served his dinner and I waited anxiously for the arguments to begin and then after dinner he’d resume his nightly ritual of vodka and (fill in the blank) orange juice, grapefruit juice or my kool aid. I hated it when he used my kool aid. That was mine. To this day, thinking of kool aid conjures up unpleasant memories for me. If he was pretty drunk already when he came home he’d usually pass out in his chair, and I was grateful for that. Mind you, this man never missed a day of work no matter how drunk he was the night before. Well, that’s not entirely true. The 3 times he had his drivers license revoked he went to jail for a short time and my mother had to drive him everywhere for 6 months each time this happened.(as an aside, I must mention that my dad really was a great man…)
But, I don’t know how my mother did it. Really. I’m a recently divorced self employed single mom with 3 children (we’ll get into that later in another post), and I cannot imagine having to deal with this nonsense with kids, and school and everything that goes into being an adult. We all have our issues to deal with, and I suppose that we learn to accommodate the idiosyncrasies that plague our daily situations, but in those days, as I mentioned before, people didn’t air their dirty laundry. This had to be a terrible embarrassment to my mother. I know that as I got older, I could never invite friends over if it was after 5:00 p.m. It made my teenage years tough, and it’s not as if those years aren’t tough enough already. I know, wah wah, I had it so tough. But, as I said, I guess I was happy enough.
Which brings me to the topic at hand. Happiness. So if you look up the definition of happiness, it merely says “the state of being happy”. What?! And if you look for other answers to the meaning of happiness, what you will come up with is its subjectivity as a feeling or state of being. I’ve been thinking of ways that happiness is perceived or used to describe people and their lives or situations. Like the statement “I’m not a happy camper” or “you make me so happy” or “as long as you’re happy”. What do those things really mean? Pleasure, joy, exhilaration, bliss, contentedness, delight, enjoyment, satisfaction, contentment, felicity are words that imply an active or passive state of pleasure or pleasurable satisfaction. “Happiness results from the possession or attainment of what one considers good; all synonyms for happiness.”The word origin and history of happiness: 1520s, “good fortune,” from happy + ness. Meaning “pleasant and contented mental state” is from 1590s. Phrase greatest happiness for the greatest number was in Hutcheson (1725).
And why does everyone want us to be happy? It’s been quoted, somewhere, that “extreme happiness begets tragedy.” After all, the antonym is misery. These descriptions are akin to pleasure and pain.
I suppose the point of all of this is that, like my life as a child, which was a strained mix of happiness and misery, and pleasure and pain, I chose to be “happy”. Despite the many, many days, perhaps years, that I experienced what would be considered an unhappy environment. I chose to create my own world of joy. I lived in a place of my own where it was happy. Because, although I rarely saw any real affection or love between them, I knew that my parents loved me and probably each other. There is no a tangible way for me to determine this, but I’m pretty sure there was something between them. Fifty six years is a long time to stay married…
I have grown so weary of the election of so many to be unhappy and to maintain a stance of being unhappy when one could just give into it and be damn happy. It really does feel better to choose this felicitous state. I can bring myself to tears in seconds dwelling on things that are upsetting and that make me feel unhappy and I hate it when that happens. And I know that I am the culprit of these feelings and emotions. That makes me even more upset with myself.
So, my resolve for 2015 is to revive my childhood approach to life. I choose to be happy. And so far, I am and in fact, almost blissful at the proposition of regaining a sense of innocence and naivete. Happy, happy new year to me…