choose happiness

by humanmama on January 9, 2013

Well, since Christmas I wrote two pieces about Helena and her horse. (This one, and this one.) The horse that she did not get for Christmas. This one:

It sucked. I want to be positive about it, but seeing your kid anxiously check all the other, unopened boxes on Christmas and knowing what she’s looking for? It sucks. We tried to be fair. “It’s good, because you and Lilly got the same amount of things!” We tried to be realistic. “Honey, Santa doesn’t always get us what we want, just mostly what we need.” We tried to be optimistic: “maybe if you ask for it for your birrrthdaaay….” Carpenter and I knew it was a fool’s errand. He remembered being a little kid at a Breakfast with Santa, where all the other kids got gifts “from Santa” that obviously their parents brought and planted in Santa’s sack. He saw kid after kid get GI Joe’s, Star Wars figurines….and he got a book. He said he cried on the way home. I said, “Imagine how your parents must have felt that day.” He said, “Bad. I bet, really bad.”

We felt bad. Really bad. So many points in my life I would have run out to the store, no, to Amazon.com, and immediately placed the order. I would have put “Sorry so late! Fell off the sleigh!” on the e-card and waited for delivery. But we just can’t right now. I’ve been mostly a stay-at-homer for 6 and 1/2 years, and we have to actually pay our real bills. If we had known before Christmas how important the pony was (HORRIBLE PONY), we would’ve maybe not gotten her anything except for the pony. But we didn’t know she wanted it that badly until Christmas eve. And it is so expensive, all parents out there know that it’s just a lot of money for a toy that they’ll play with everyminuteofeveryday–for the first two days.

It really brought a lot of things to light, this “Ponygate.” In our neighborhood, which is awesome and full of great parents, there were a lot of nice toys. We know–we choose–for me to stay home, but it’s still hard to explain that thriftiness to kids who believe in Santa. “Don’t worry, mom! Santa will bring it!” While the kids we knew were getting iPads and Leapsters, Wiis and Xbox games, we were worrying about paying all the bills and making a happy Christmas. We were trying to instill gratitude, but it was really, really hard with the feeling out there–this really is a “throw-away” society. When Carpenter and I found a wooden rocking horse to give her after Christmas, she loved it immediately. But then later, she wanted to know where it had come from. “It’s not new,” she said, and we explained that a lot of times things that are antique are even better than things that are new and cheaply made.

It was a strange lesson. She decided she wants to buy it herself, and we really encouraged that. It’ll make her so much more careful about the horse when she does get it. And maybe she’ll choose not to buy it, once she’s holding 100 of her own carefully-earned dollars in her hand. But still, when we picked up a carpool kid for school this week she asked Helena “what did you get for Christmas?” And I saw it, that little twinge of sadness in her eye. The kid also asked “which thing did you get that’s bigger than you? I got three things bigger than me.” And I did what any mom would do: I changed the subject. Subtly, and deftly.

Since Ponygate on Christmas, Helena’s been noticeably less grateful when opening gifts from relatives and friends. Carp and I have left her with one thing that I hope stays with her long after the desire to own a fake pony who neighs loudly while chomping a fake carrot wears out. And that’s this: you have to choose happiness. It’s true. It’s everyday. I know people who are always happy and people who are never happy, and they all make a decision every single day to choose happiness. It’s not always easy, but it is simple. When life gives you lemons, as they say, make lemonade. But when life gives you heartache, and anger, and hurt, and disappointment, and disease, and divorce, and death? You still have to wake up and choose happiness. There’s got to be some good left, even if it’s small. Even if it’s hard to find. Even if it’s not in your own life but in someone else’s (that’s a difficult one, right?). Even if it’s in nature–the sunset, the stillness, the acorn that grows into an oak tree. It takes serious practice sometimes. It does not come naturally for some people.

We encourage her to choose happiness. You have to choose it everyday. If you start at the age of 6, hopefully you can make it a lifelong practice to choose it daily. That’s what I’m trying to teach all my kids. And, by proxy, myself. Choose happiness. Has a nice ring to it, right?

There are still happy things, then.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica January 9, 2013 at 2:51 pm

This whole thing has really tugged on my heartstrings, even though you know that I totally support the decisions you’ve made and how you’ve handled it. I saw some sad eyes in my classroom as some students shared about getting iPads and xBoxes for Christmas, and I knew exactly which ones had just gotten clothes or books because it’s hard enough to put food on the table. I’m going to do a lot of thinking about this at every Christmas from now on as I choose what my boys will get and how we will talk about it. I don’t want them to be sad, nor do I want them to be the ones making others sad. Choosing happiness is certainly one of the best lessons you can give them. Thanks for teaching me some others, as well, about hope, disappointment, and respect.
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aj January 11, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Thanks, Jess. It’s such an interesting time in our society–usually even if we can’t afford things, we buy them anyway. On credit, or layaway, or with borrowed money… I think it’ll be a good lesson for my kids that we just can’t do that. A hard lesson but good. And you’re right–we all need to teach our kids how to react to others–what is appropriate and what is kind and then what is bragging, or just thoughtfulness. It’s a really tough balance!

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Amanda Anthony January 9, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Love this piece AJ:) happy new year and lots of love

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aj January 11, 2013 at 1:28 pm

thank you, thank you, thank you. Happy new year too!

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