Imperfectly Happy

It was not the holidays we had envisioned. A few days before Christmas, M started an innocuous sniffle that within twenty-four hours turned into a horrendous cough/fever/congestion combination. I tell myself that two days of playing in the cold rain had nothing to do with it. Three days of coughing so hard he was throwing up–yes, even at Christmas Eve dinner–before his sister started it. We spent Christmas hacking, gagging, wiping, sniffling, and generally slouching around half-interested in presents and glaze-eyed with fever. One very sleepless night of K screaming every half-hour as coughs ripped through her, and we were on our way home, abandoning plans for the kids and their grandparents in hopes that we could somehow reset our winter holiday.

Despite our lack of sleep, despite the fact that both kids were still very sick, we had to stop on the way home to pick up a replacement camera for the one we received (the one without the battery, a snafu that should not have surprised us given our holiday). The stop came at lunchtime, luckily located near In-N-Out. Soon the kids were stickering the little kids’ handout and eating their favorite hamburgers. It went so swimmingly that we stopped across the street to check out the possibility of drums for the kids. Drum shopping is, in itself, uplifting. Never are children presenting with so many legitimate options to make noise than in the padded halls of a drum section, and these children especially needed an excuse to have fun.

When we finished, we passed a McDonald’s tucked inside Wal-Mart. Lo and behold, they had chocolate dipped cones, which just happen to be another kid favorite. Okay, mom too. “Should we?” B asked. “Why not?” I shrugged. He pursed his lips. “Remember what Jack said.”

See, I had recently read an interview with Jack Black in which he offered the following piece of advice: “Never try to make a happy kid happier.” We talked about the reality of it, the way that good times often seemed to fall apart when you pushed them that extra little bit. But we’d had such a tumultuous few days that the chance at happiness, it was too hard to pass up.

So we bought ice cream and took it outside and instantly things turned. The planned benches were taken. The ice creams melted everywhere. There were too few napkins, and too few hands to use them. We juggled our own treats while trying to help the kids, my sole purpose for a few minutes keeping their cones from crashing to the ground. Jack was right: it was an absolute mess.

It was also an absolute joy. The sun, which had been for too long hidden by rain, was so very warm. The sky was a clear watercolor blue. Our hands became so coated that we gave up on the napkins and let them be messy. M ended up with ice cream on his nose, laughing contagiously. I ended up feeding little bits of chocolate to K, who really doesn’t care for ice cream much anyway. We wiped up and left with a sigh of contentment, running through the grass to our car and our home and a welcome few days of relaxation. It was not perfect, but because it was not perfect, it gave us a chance to let loose, to laugh, to be together for a moment in a very real way.

Driving home, I thought about the rest of our holidays, mucked up like our ice cream covered hands, and began to appreciate our Christmas for what it was, instead of focusing on what it wasn’t. No, not perfect. But we had friends over for Christmas dinner, and the six of us were up until midnight like the children we once were, making a Lego masterpiece for M, who was too sick to build it himself. I took naps with K again, singing us to sleep with our favorite lullaby. It may have been one of the last times I will ever do so. We watched movies and played games, drank Sprite and ate leftovers. We went home early. We had ice cream in the sun, smiles all around. It was not perfect, but I came to see that what I’d seen as catastrophes were in fact what gave it character.

As for Jack’s advice, well, I understand it. But I don’t agree with it. There’s no such thing as too much happiness. And failing in pursuit of happiness? Just a chance to enjoy the happiness born not from perfection but from imperfection.

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