To Contemplate One's Own Happiness

He wondered how many people ever said to themselves “I’m happy.” And did it help to contemplate one’s own happiness?
— Alexander McCall Smith, A Time of Love and Tartan

I find myself sometimes, as I go about the most ordinary of days, thinking how happy I am and how I love a particular part of my day. It happens on Mondays and Wednesdays after dinner when I get up from the table to load the dishwasher and start pulling out things for the kids' lunches for their next day of school. It happens when I go in the kitchen first thing each morning and put my jar of coconut oil in a saucepan of water to let it melt. It certainly happens when I start making coffee. It happens when I sit down to read Pinocchio to Story and Cash on a homeschool day. It happens when I help Sailor pack her blankies in her Minnie Mouse backpack for preschool, and when we ride in the van and take turns listening to Sailor's choice of song, then my choice of song, back and forth. It happens when we read the newspaper on Sunday mornings before church, and when I turn on the little heater in the bathroom before bed and know I'll soon write one line in my Happiness Journal before reading a few pages of A Time of Love and Tartan. It happens when I glance at my phone the next morning and see a late-night text from my friend Janna waiting to be enjoyed. 

And on it goes, this thread of happiness weaving into and out of my days. As we watched the Olympics recently, I saw an interview with Lindsey Vonn, in which she cried as she voiced her wish to be able to continue to ski. It was as if she was saying, No matter how much I want things to stay as they are, for me to stay young and strong and at the top of my game, time goes on and my turn is almost over. 

I knew what she meant. No matter how much I long for this life to stay just as it is right now - for me to use the same purse forever and for the Sanuk boots TJ got me for Christmas to never wear out, for us to eat avocado toast and smoothies for lunch, for the kids to watch Planet Earth with TJ or PJ Masks on their own, for Bauer to listen to Adventures in Odyssey for hours, for me to love waterskiing as much as I do, for the kids to want coloring sheets printed all the time, and everybody's trying to find the one brown crayon, and we do another Story Circle with packs of gummies, and Bauer sets the table while I finish cooking and we listen to Audrey Assad's "Good to Me," and the girls pick washcloths for baths and fuss over turns with the Bop-It while Cash calmly tries to get them to agree and then tells us again that he can't decide if he likes soccer or greyhound dogs more - yes, this is all I want forever. I want to cook dinner every night, and have friends over as much as we have margin for, and celebrate our birthdays and our half-birthdays, and sit down to text my friends at night as soon as the kids go to bed.  

And yet as happy as I am, I find myself some days trying to get out from under motherhood. I didn't realize this is what I was doing until my friend Sarah told a story from her early days of being a mom in which someone she looked up to wisely told her to stop trying to get out from under motherhood. These words, and this naming, have given tangibility and voice to my confession of late. 


For the season of Lent, we have a jar in the middle of our table, and each morning there's a dried black bean on each of our napkins. When each person comes to breakfast, they place their black bean in the jar that is marked on crafter's tape with the words We are waiting for Jesus to make all things new. (The kids are unaware that on Easter morning, the black beans will become jellybeans.) I told the kids they can remember and confess a sin as they drop their black bean in each morning, and I have started to do the same. 

On Sunday afternoon all I wanted was to sit in the sun for as long as I could and read and write and pray. The girls were supposed to be having separate quiet times in their rooms, reading or playing or anything but bothering me. You probably know how that went down. By the third interruption, I was letting my annoyance show in my tone of voice and desperate plea for them to stay inside for thirty more minutes. As I went back to my reading, I felt a gentle conviction from the Lord that I need to stop trying to get out from under motherhood. These kids are my Sunday afternoon and my Tuesday morning and my Thursday night. This is the life I have now, with kids who need to know that I'm here to help them. I will forever remember my precious friend Michelle, kneeling down by her daughter on a recent playdate and saying, with as much conviction and truth as I've ever seen, I'm here to help you. Had I ever said that to my children? But thanks to my good fortune at being witness to that moment of Michelle's parenting, now I have.

And that memory is a beautiful picture even now of God saying to me, Ginger, I'm here to help you - to help you bear motherhood in all its fullness, in all its ordinariness, and in all its attempt to overwhelm. I know what you need, whether sunshine or quiet or quotes, or popsicles with your kids instead. 

My black bean confession has reminded me to stay the course when I'm not having one of those "I'm happy" moments that make me wish I could forever stay this age with kids this age. There is more than one kind of sunshine to warm my soul, and it may look like people wanting to sit outside beside me or asking me for snacks or needing help getting a dress out of the closet or asking for the fourth time what time our friends will arrive for dinner. In those moments of opportunity to help my children, I want to contemplate not just my own happiness, but theirs too, for our happinesses are mixed in motherhood. 

It may not really matter to the world at large, thought Isabel, that I should feel happy rather than sad, but it matters to me, and the fact that it matters matters.
— Alexander McCall Smith, The Right Attitude to Rain