Are you Happy?: The Catalyst for Change

be happy

Ever since I quit my professional career to facilitate my family’s move to Vermont, I have assumed I would go back to work shortly after settling in.  After a longer than expected settling in period, I figured I’d go back to work part-time, once my youngest was in pre-school. Once she entered kindergarten, I figured I’d get to work.  She’s in third grade now.  I dabble in substitute teaching and occasionally elementary-school-kid-sitting (which is what “mainstream teaching assistant” sub positions feel like to me).

I have friends who have gone back to work full time. I have friends who have gone back to work part-time. I have friends who have never gone back to work and have no plans to.  I have never seen myself in the latter category.  Something has been driving me to be the professional I once was.  But what?

The other day, my sister posted the above image on my FaceBook site with a question asking me and others essentially “is happiness a goal in your life? Something you strive for? Did your parents encourage you to ‘be happy’ ”  It got us both thinking about our childhood and I realized that despite the fact that I am in my, ahem “late forties” and my mother has been dead now 10 years, I still have her little voice inside me pushing me to “be something”.

You see, growing up, Mom was a great believer in her daughters. She would encourage us to work hard, to be leaders, to volunteer so we could  get a job later, to be independent and strong, to be courageous.  She told us repeatedly “you can be ANYthing you want to be.”  She never brought up happiness.  I remember sitting in my sister’s bedroom — she had a huge bedroom with a couch in it so often we’d be hanging out there — and mother drilling me on what I thought I’d want to go to college for.  I dunno.  And in college, the conversation continued and I’d have just enough of the pressure to finally say, “Look Mom, I just want to be happy”.  Maybe because I grew up in a house that lacked its share of happiness. My parents persisted in a marriage “for the kids” for 24 years; my middle sister brought much stress to our family.  Maybe because “happiness” was something I valued over all the others.  I’ve always had a bit of an independent streak.

Was happiness not discussed because it was not considered a goal in and of itself or was it expected to be a natural consequence of hard work, maturity, a good job and civic leadership?  I don’t know.

And so it happened that this thinking of “happiness” occurred on the same day I was negotiating for what seemed to be the perfect part-time job: 25-hours/week, 8:30-2pm, summers off.   The perfect formula.  During the negotiations, however, I realized that kind of schedule doesn’t pay much <sigh> and that being the “church administrator” didn’t strike a passionate enough cause for me to work for just $11,000/year.  All of the sudden, thinking about working for that job made me very UNhappy.  I withdrew my name from consideration.

I realized at that moment that it was time I finally figured out what I wanted to do with myself to make me happy.  Was I really happy?  Yes, I have a loving husband, a good marriage, delightful children, awesome friends, enough money to feed everyone and support a travel hockey player.  What more did I need?  I needed to feel happy; to smile more; to worry less; to cut myself a little slack.  I need to find a way to create more everyday happiness in my life.

Maybe that will lead to a new job.  Maybe it won’t.

But I feel really good about taking a “pause” from the mental pressure to “do something; be something; work; be independent, yadda yadda yadda” long enough for me to be mindful about creating happiness around me.

I don’t believe happiness is just a by-product.  I believe it can also be the objective.  And I believe that as I work to create this around me, I will better see my path in life.


2012 State-of-the-Union

Since President Obama issued his State-of-the-Union address yesterday, I’ve been feeling like having one too.   And, having visited the financial planner yesterday, it seems no better time than to make some bold statements about 2012.

1. I will find a source of income this year.  After all, I now know that with the financial plan we’re working on, given existing income sources and adjustments for income, my kids will be able to go to a decent college, eating in a fancy dining hall, and sleeping in a dormitory that’s probably nicer than home, all with a hefty subsidy from mom & dad, but we will spend retirement eating ramen-noodles from our walkers wearing the same clothes I wear now. Seriously, I’ve always known I needed to return to work. I’ve wanted to return to work. I’ve tried to find something that suits me. But now it’s time to buckle down!  I don’t mind the ramen-noodles really (see below), but I’m gonna want to buy myself a nice pair of boots, or dear g-o-d, take a vacation to someplace warm when I’m old!

2. We will plan our expenses carefully. This is a tough one.  I am married to mr. spontaneity who’s alter ego is mr. end-cap (as in he shops from the promotional end-caps despite my advice that better deals are found deeper in the aisle).  I do usually benefit from his spontaneity.  The end-caps? Ah, we really have enough cereal.

I will make an effort to fix more things rather than replace them, whenever possible. We must plan our vacations far enough out that we budget the expenses. We have this sailboat we must equip for it’s first season (what was I thinking?) and now we must plan out what we want to spend and not just spend it all in the month of June as we launch it.  I will attempt to purchase items from craigslist — I really do need a new desk, but maybe not a brand-new desk!

3. I will try to like cooking.  After all, if I like it,  won’t I want to do more of it? And that will lead to fewer meals out.  Really, I have to learn to cook like I’m a working mom. You know, cook a big meal on the weekend and package it out as a few meals and freeze.  Perhaps a little less of “oh, what can I pull together now that it’s 4:30 and I have to feed my kids”. I really miss my single days where eating a bowl of couscous in front on the TV at 8pm was dinner. No prep. No forethought. Virtually no dishes. That was the life.  And it was 15 years ago, so really, it’s time I got my sh** together.

4. I will continue to exercise and keep myself healthy.  A cortisone shot on Friday might make this seem more doable.  But really, no excuses.  If we’re going to have to work until we’re 70 years old (which we will) then we’d better be healthy.    So on days when I don’t feel like navigating icy sidewalks to run, let me remember that I have to make this body last a long time. Next time something doesn’t work right, I’m going to see a doctor rather than just wait it out. I’ve learned a painful (literally!) lesson with this rotator-cuff.  Feet hurt? See a doctor.  I don’t want to be 70 and crippled with arthritis while I’m trying to run the cash register at the grocery store.

5. I will unclutter our lives to make it easier to live the simple life we want.  It seems a never-ending job.  Yesterday, I pulled out a box of my grandmother’s teacup collection from the basement.  If these teacups made me happy, I’d have them on the shelf. They are, instead, part of a vast collection of dead-relative memorabilia.  It occurred to me yesterday, that if I got rid of my dead-relative collections, we might have room to display our own special memories from my own special family. Nuff said.  I plan to learn unclutter AND make money by selling stuff on ebay and craigslist.  I think I might be able to make a dent in my annual income by clearing out so much stuff.

6.  A little more discipline, maybe? So, how do I make all this happen? I will have to spend less time RIGHT HERE with my friend the computer.  We have lunch together, snack, spend many days listening to music and window-shopping.  Time to get a little distance, my friend. No offense.

I’m feeling hopeful and a little bit overwhelmed.  One day at a time, isn’t that the mantra?


Pig-Headed Do-Gooder Sports

“You are the volunteer of last resort” my husband chided me this weekend. I’m just not sure how to take that!?  The truth is, I am reliable and I commit cautiously, but fully.  Those qualities make me a perfect glutton for punishment. And in the world of parent-volunteerism, there’s plenty of punishment to be had.

What makes matters worse, however, is that I have two other qualities that delude me in my volunteerism: “do-gooder” and “pig-headed”.  Those are the more common names for my qualities. I tend to refer to them as my lofty-dreamy-isms and my love of the sport of running-down-the-slim-odd.

So altogether, you have a girl who believes she can make the world better, is not deterred by the odds, and who will do the dirty work, even if no one else will.  Seriously, I am a cause’s wet-dream! Continue reading

Raging Madness

I write three blogs with varying regularity. I can’t decide which blog is more appropriate for this post: the one about adapting to Vermont, the one about parenting, or the one titled “managing the madness”. This one feels like it should be in the latter, but that one is focused on a different source of madness, and the first, it could go in because it’s got to do with living here, but it’s also about our life, and how it colors our life, as people and as parents. Continue reading