Bring the noise

A lot of psychologists and happiness experts talk about the importance of living in the moment. You need to be happy even while you’re hoping for the next job promotion or the nicer house or the lasting relationship. We all have a fairly set level of happiness, and events will temporarily bump us from that level, but we always return to it.

I’ve always ascribed to this theory, in part because I find that some aspect of my life always tends to be a bit less than I would hope. When our family is doing well, my career is often neglected. When my career is going well, my social life seems to fall short. I can’t have it all. I know this.

Those psychologists don’t know everything though. If you have lost a baby, bringing home a healthy baby will absolutely make you happier — permanently happier. Having Henry here in no way negates what happened with Genevieve, and that disappointed me in the beginning. I had imagined that I would stop being sad. Nope. But on a daily basis, I am happier than I was before I had Henry.

I was reading a piece recently by a woman who has one child at home and one baby who died, and she wrote about her longing for the clamor and mess that comes with two kids. I tend to think about how I should have even more clamor and mess in my life. Three kids is chaos, right? But by the end of the day in my house, there is a mess and a lot of mayhem. Henry deposits toys, books, and clothing in every corner of the house. He tugs down a few Christmas tree ornaments despite our very top-heavy decorating. Eleanor displays a half-dozen works of art on the kitchen counter, none of which I’m allowed to throw away. And all of it makes this neat-freak very happy.

I am ready for Christmas. Everyone always asks that. Are you ready? For the first time in I don’t know how long, I am ready. Up until now, we’ve had incredibly polite Christmas mornings. Eleanor, taking her cues from the adults, has waited patiently to open presents. Last year was good, but Henry was still a tiny sleeping nugget, not a participant. This will be the first year that wrapping paper is thrown everywhere and toys are tussled over. I want all of it — the shrieks of joy, the bellyaches from too many cookies, the children nestled snug in their beds, even if one of them still demands to be soothed once in the middle of each night. It’s much easier than silence.

Not making the cut

If you read my piece about holiday cards, you probably guessed that we do not send photo cards. This year, we did snap a photo of the kids to tuck into the cards that we will send to grandparents, relatives, and some friends.

I say it casually. We just snapped a photo. What actually went on spanned the course of two days and three photo sessions, the fault of both a photography-obsessed husband and a perfectionistic wife. I wanted to show what happens when we try to take one of those perfect holiday photos. There is the mad baby:

Mad Henry

There is the moment when the baby falls off the bed because both parents are so distracted:

About to fall

(Greg caught that 22-pound baby with one hand after taking this photo.)

And there is the mother standing nearby with marshmallows for bribery:

Bribing the baby

When I look at the cards that other people send, I don’t see any of this. Those children must be more cooperative. And those husbands and wives must not argue about backgrounds and lighting.

Though we won’t be sending out any of these photos, I think that for posterity’s sake, I like them best. This is what life looks like with our kids. Often, it’s a mess.

Priced out

We took the kids to Dallas last week with a plan to visit a hotel where they truck in tons of ice for a huge winter display. Yes, Texans will pay $30 a person to experience frigid weather. For an extra $15, people could skip to the front of the line.

The fast pass has become ubiquitous, and I despise it. The ice display ended up selling out before we could get tickets, and still I found myself angry about the fast pass. We were lucky that the indoor snow-tubing was available. Eleanor loved it, though I am certain that they should have paid me to wrestle that heavy, wet, alligatorish double tube up the narrow aluminum staircase over and over.

We’re heading to Disney sometime this winter, and I will have to confront the fast pass conundrum. Over the weekend, I read a piece about the increasingly cramped spaces on airlines. Many airlines are now giving frequent flier points based on ticket price rather than miles flown. First-class fliers will remain so, and the rest of us have even less chance of ever getting up there with the warm lemon-scented towels and fresh-baked cookies. Austin is in the midst of a highway-upgrade. The new lanes will be toll lanes, priced highest during the busiest times of day. We are rapidly reaching a point where the ticket price doesn’t grant us access to anything except a long line.

In some cases, I can afford to buy the fast pass or pay the toll or dole out whatever fee it is that will save me time. Is that what I want to teach my children, that the rules don’t apply to us if we have enough money?

The rules have changed, I know. I’ve never liked when parents harken back to their own childhoods — “In my day….” Progress is inevitable and often good. But really, in my day, everyone waited in the 30-minute line at Disney, both the children of teachers (me) and the children of executives. I lived in a smaller house, rode in older cars, and ate simpler food. Still, I had equality at the amusement park, on the highway, at the movie theater (where I now have to pay a convenience fee to reserve a ticket before the movie sells out).

I know that inequality is so much broader than that. Clearly people standing in line at Disney aren’t suffering much. But in these daily hassles, I see a chance to teach my children something. I’m still trying to figure out what that something is. I can refuse to pony up the extra fee, knowing that my one small action will do nothing to change the situation. I can boycott the business altogether, but again, that does nothing to change the situation and means that I will endure 18-hour car trips to Illinois with a crying toddler.

There is a lesson about money and budgeting, certainly. Here is why you work hard in school, go to college, and work hard at your job. Yet, plenty of hard-working people cannot afford to skip the line, and plenty of slackers born into wealth can. Maybe the only lesson is that if you want society to be better, you will have to grow up to be the leader who changes it. That seems like too much to push on a kindergartner.