M is going through a phase. Dear God, please let it be a phase. Whenever something doesn’t go exactly his way, he pronounces, in a petulant whiny way often accompanied by tears, “I am just not happy right now.” My response varies, depending on the time of day, the amount of sleep I did or didn’t get, and the number of times I’ve heard this statement in the last ten minutes. Sometimes it’s: “I’m sorry, sweetie. What can I do to help?” Or sometimes: “I’m glad to hear you expressing your feelings, even if there’s nothing I can do.” Or, in zen moments: “Happiness is a choice.” Or occasionally: “Life isn’t always about being happy.” Or finally, in desperation: “Neither am I, kid. Neither am I.”
The truth is, every one of these answers seems reasonable and valid. I want M to know that it’s good to express your feelings, that I’m there to listen and help as needed, but that not everything can be controlled or fixed based on one person’s emotions. As much as I would like to see him happy all the time, I have a lot of other considerations on the table, such as health, safety, education, and general well-being. Plus I have three other people in this family to nurture. And life isn’t always going to make him happy, because life isn’t always fair. In the end, it really does come down to our own daily choices. As Abraham Lincoln said, “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
But he’s four. The thing that’s making him unhappy might be as small as the side of the car on which his sister got in. I need one simple response that I can spit out without getting my feathers in a ruffle, because the last thing my happiness level needs is more arguing. But it seems like such a teaching opportunity, about how we feel, communicate, respond, and process, that I can’t seem to settle on any one thing. I end up feeling overwhelmed, fumbling, and stressed. What I want is to stop the whole phase in its tracks, because regardless of the positives of the situation, I can’t help but feel that the last thing I want to revolve our lives around is a four-year-old’s state of happiness.
But instead of passing, as phases ought to do, it’s spreading. This morning, K came into the kitchen, frowningly grumpy, and pronounced: “Juss not happy now.” Right. Take a number, sweetheart, right behind me.