I am not your Happy Maker
Updated: Feb 6
Summer closes on my 13th year as a mama. After I see my three boys off to school, and I’m left with my first moments of quiet since May (happy dance! I can be an introvert!), mental pictures I’ve filed from summer come forward, a record of the past three months.
And then this feeling: I am disappointed.
Here I’ve been looking forward to this post-school drop off lull for weeks, ready for noise-free, whine-free, question-free, snack-preparation-free time, when I can drink HOT coffee. Alone. And this comes up? Why is my heart admitting to this now? I don’t even want to deal.
I roll my eyes at myself and start to catalog my memories. Sunscreen and wet towels. Watermelon and hot dogs and s’mores. Bikes parked next to the Hawaiian ice stand. Rollercoaster-blown hair. Rain pelting the library roof. Backyard soccer. Driveway cornhole. Lake playtime. Floating a Friday afternoon away. Takeout poolside.
What gives? These are GOOD. Why am I disappointed? Then the cataloging brings forward afternoons of frustration. Tears over friends who couldn’t play. Competing schedules and agendas. Dissension over what today should hold. Disinterest in tried-and-true family outings from years gone by – summer standby’s outgrown, boxed up with duplos and sidewalk chalk. Oh, yeah. There was some hard stuff.
I try not to assign the memories to lists of summer failures and summer successes. Maybe, instead, just all of it equals summer. Maybe I need to be okay with how it looks, all meshed together: good, bad, sweaty, salty, sunny, rainy.
I refill my coffee. I sit on the couch, pull some grace up onto my lap, and begin forming different list in my brain. This is the summer I could:
Leave my middle son home alone with his younger brother for short periods of time.
Allow my youngest to bike down the street *alone* to ask friends to play.
Say easy yes’s to my oldest as he chose his friends more.
Stop fretting that my youngest was up late repeatedly because now he will actually sleep in…a little...
Relax at the pool, because my children can swim confidently and well enough that I don’t’ have to be wet all. the. time.
This is a good list. A list of evidences that my family is growing up. A list of moments that show my boys are finding their way and needing me less.
But then I have an aha moment.
Yes, my little family is growing up, and that’s hard and there are lots of things to work through as we figure out this new stage. And the next one. And the one after that. That’s there and it’s real. But that doesn’t entirely capture the struggle of the summer.
What I realize is that for thirteen years (because I’m apparently a very slow learner…),
I have believed that I am responsible for their Summer Happy. Even worse, I have allowed my Summer Happy to be inextricably tied to theirs.
<insert head banging here>
Nowhere in any parenting manuals ever does it say that I’m in charge of their happy. Where did I land on this philosophy? I blame the “summer bucket lists” I used to pore over on Pinterest. And yet, happiness has been the unwritten measure of summer success in the Hammar household for 13 years. Nice. Well done.
So I sit down with these three offspring whom I have so impressively mistaught and begin to explain to them: Happy is fleeting. It comes and goes and is fickle. It feels big in good moments and elusive in others. The most important truth we each must know about being happy is that we decide. It isn’t handed to us and it isn’t forced on us. Happy is a decision.
I tell them. And I tell myself.
I continue: Joy, though, is deeply rooted and loyal. It doesn’t abandon us when sad or mad arrive – it can stay and be at the same time. But we have to choose to soak in it, regardless of competing emotions.
Joy can stay even when happy runs away.
As I reflect on summer through the lens of joy instead, I see that my family is growing up together. For us to break away from the made-up rules about what summer looks like, and how we chase it down, brings freedom. I can nurture in my boys a desire to chase summer their way, and teach them that joy lives in whatever summer they find.
And for me, I choose grace. We came out the other side stronger, wiser, and better equipped for what lies ahead. With more freckles, bronzed shoulders, a few skinned knees and mosquito bites.
That sounds like a good summer.