Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Missed Moments of Joy

I missed a big one. I had to attend an out-of-town funeral last weekend and missed the swim team banquet and the end-of-year gymnastics show.

Although they participate in many activities, each of my kids has one that is his or her favorite, chosen thing (for now). My son's thing is swimming; it's the first sport he has enjoyed, and he shows some natural prowess. My daughter's thing is gymnastics; she is driven to learn new skills and intent on advancing to the next level.

The weekend events were the culmination of months of work for each. I knew my swimmer would win the Most Improved award. My gymnast couldn't wait to demonstrate all she'd learned. And I couldn't be there.

Kids at Beach - Flotsam of the Mind

I felt awful, but there was no getting around it. Both kids were upset that I wouldn't be able to attend, and my little one sobbed when I told her I'd miss her show. I felt crummy.

Only on the airplane to Ohio did I realize that what I felt was selfish disappointment, not guilt. The kids still had a smiling, waving parent to cheer and work the camera. I was the one who missed out. I had to miss the fun part.

I was reading the final chapter of All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior when I had my epiphany. Most of the book, about children's effects on their parents, describes the tedious (no fun) aspects of parenting like sleep deprivation, pointless arguments with toddlers, and adolescent pulling away.

After examining the daily trials of parenthood, the author concludes with a final chapter about joy. She draws a distinction between happiness and joy, explaining that we can love to be parents even though studies show that parents are less happy than non-parents at any given moment. Senior writes, "How it feels to be a parent and how it feels to do the quotidian and often arduous task of parenting are two very separate things."

I'm very familiar with the quotidian. And, in the abstract, I do experience joy at being a mom. But there are very few moments in time when the joy of being a parent is more than an abstract concept, and watching your children perform skills or win awards for their hard work is one of them. That's what I missed last weekend--the big pay-off. I missed my joy moment.

Speaking of such moments, Senior says, "The awed, otherworldly feeling you get when your infant looks directly into your eyes for the first time is different from the sense of pride you experience when that same kid, years later, lands a perfect double axel, which in turn is different from the sensation of warmth and belonging that consumes you when your widely dispersed family gathers for Thanksgiving." Each is a moment of joy that fills your chest until you feel you might burst, and they are special, rare moments that can be lost in the everyday routine of packing lunches and finding lost socks.

As a non-working parent and the primary caregiver at our house, my days are filled with the quotidian. I get us where we need to go, when we need to be there, with all the right stuff. It can be boring, and it can be frustrating. But it's worth it when I see the light in my children's eyes that says they've mastered something hard, and they are proud.

I missed two of those moments last weekend. I'm still proud of my kids, but I wish I'd gotten to witness how proud they were of themselves.


  1. Don't be hard on yourself. Some might say that the joy is really that they found something that they love and are good at, rather than the event that is the evidence or culmination of that. I understand what you are saying, but don't beat yourself up. Think about it this way: your parents probably experienced the "joy moment" at watching you give an eloquent and beautifully delivered eulogy about Grandpa. xoxo

  2. Oh, I'm not being too hard on myself. I don't think it's a bad thing to want to celebrate special moments with my children, even if it's for my benefit as much as theirs. It was just such an interesting revelation when I realized that I felt little guilt (because I couldn't do much about it) but still felt really bummed for a totally different reason.

  3. Susie: Grandpa was proud of you last weekend with the eulogy that you wrote. I got my sign that he reached the other side to join grandma. I hope u did too.