Updated: Sep 13, 2021
You deserve to be happy…
That was the well-worn refrain of my girlfriends, when we were in our early twenties. Usually in response to misery over some guitar player or other with long eyelashes, perfectly cut jeans, and a tendency to make out with your roommates. Get rid of that loser! You deserve to be happy! I've changed my mind since then. I no longer think I deserve happiness. Hear me out, before you go all crazy and start leaving me voicemails saying, “Oh, but you do!” I no longer believe I deserve anything in particular, or that we live in a universe that hands out just desserts, based on some cryptic metaphysical barter system. But I do believe we’re tasked with making meaning out of what comes our way, and that we’re responsible for taking care of each other.
I also tend to think this mythical state of “happiness” we somehow deserve, is overrated. Often the things I dread the most wind up being the most valuable to me. For example, something that recently happened around here…A few months ago, we figured out that Jovi needed a dedicated therapeutic preschool environment, and we got him into a phenomenal program. One of the reasons the school is so effective with early interventions is they treat the whole family, and give everyone tools for communication, conflict resolution, self-regulation, talking about your feelings… all the good stuff.
This requires a hefty time commitment, particularly in the beginning. Now we get to the annoying part – I found myself attending preschool full-time for three months. Now, I love kids. I especially love my own kids! I also love dropping them off at school and going to get a bagel and write in a café. I’ve never really been the kind of person who would choose to be in a classroom of small children all day long. I was not a bit happy about my bagel-less new career attending preschool.
That sentiment remained until my final day there. I never stopped being a little bit resentful about sacrificing my few hours a day of freedom. And yet, I wept helplessly on the stairs outside when the day came that I finally dropped him off and walked away. Regardless of my resistance, my time with Jovi at school was beyond a doubt one of the most worthwhile experiences of my life, and I had such a feeling of loss when it was over that I had trouble even driving out of the parking lot.
Jovi came to us when he was 3.5 going on 35. He had such a vast body of experience already, some of which will always remain a mystery to me. I spent my time at the school learning how best to communicate with him, from true experts. I made a conscious decision to turn off my phone and put away the outside world and really get to know him, in all his hilarious, brilliant, resilient, creative magnificence. I will treasure that time for the rest of my days. I’m a busy working mom of two kids with trauma histories, and like most moms I have my share of moments when I feel despair and failure. There is also remarkable hope and faith, but I still often wonder if I’m unequal to the task I’ve taken on. And yet, when the children are asleep, breathing evenly beside me, and I just sit quietly and take a moment and listen to the distant sounds of urban life—the hum of traffic, the tumbling dryer, the buzz of a million lives outside my door. I feel a part of the flow and the struggle and the healing, I know that my life has meaning, and just for a heartbeat I get to understand it.
In those moments, I fall in love, passionately, with all of it. Mostly, with us as a family. It’s a love I never could have imagined, as that twenty-year-old who felt like I deserved the rock star of my dreams (ok, that did happen, but you get the point) and the world on a platter. I am renewed and ready to wake up and do it again. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because it’s National Foster Care Month. Scott and I are honored to have had the opportunity to participate in a couple of outreach efforts, including this nifty streetlight banner campaign for Raise a Child. It was really fun to drive under them and surprise the kids!