Sunday, February 18, 2018

A case for joy in joyless times

It's Sunday afternoon and the Daytona 500 is on. Brad is out watching it with some buddies up in Baltimore, but Lily asked me to turn it on. She stood for the National Anthem and cheered when the green flag waved signaling the start of the race.

Before he left, Brad had each of us draft some drivers. Whoever's driver wins gets to pick dinner next weekend. Lily listed her drivers out on the whiteboard. She's planning to keep track of their track position during the race.

Periodically, she comments about where her favorite drivers are running. I asked her who they are this year now that Jr.'s retired. She has an extensive list: Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Danica Patrick, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Darrell "Bubba" Wallace, A.J. Allmendinger and Kasey Kahne.

I asked her to narrow her list down to her top three picks. 

She says they're Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott.

Brad would love if I had Lily's level of devotion to NASCAR, but after years and years of Daytona 500s (probably 12 years by now), I'm still pretty "meh" about the whole thing. 

What I do enjoy is seeing Lily and her dad talk shop. How they yell at the screen together and bemoan crashes and cautions. While their enthusiasm isn't contagious, exactly, their joy is infectious. I love watching them watch racing.

It's funny, you know, where we find happiness. Or where happiness finds us, rather.

So often, I get stuck in this idea that the best kind of happiness is derived when good things happen to me directly. You know, like sipping the perfect chocolate peanut butter milkshake or putting on the softest pair of pajama pants at the end of the day or receiving an unexpected Valentine from a student I'm teaching. To be sure, those moments bring happiness– I mean, I actually sigh in relief at the end of the day when I change pants, so grateful I am for fleecy, stretchy goodness. 

But more and more, I've found real joy in indirect happiness. Seeing good things happen to other people. Like a two weeks ago when the Eagles won the Super Bowl and Brad stood in front of the TV dumbstruck.

"That was the Super Bowl, right?" He asked as I went to give him a hug. "They just won the Super Bowl!" 

Once reality sunk in, the man grabbed a bottle of Presseco someone had gifted us and ran outside, spraying wine all over the driveway, jumping up and down before running down the sidewalk whooping and periodically making obscene gestures at the Patriots flag flying across the street.

He was just so excited. And while I also hold NASCAR levels of enthusiasm for professional football (OK any football really), I was happy, too. Not just happy for him either. It's hard to explain, exactly. Just that I felt joy, because he felt joy. And I knew Lily would be joyous when she woke up the next morning. 

It happened again yesterday. The girls were out playing in the dusting of snow we were getting and I happened to peek out the window and saw Jovie lying flat on her back with her mouth open and her tongue out, catching snowflakes. Lily was standing doing the same. I ran to get my camera figuring the moment would be fleeting. They stayed this way for several minutes. Snowflakes fell on and around them as they basked in the magic.

I could've watched them all day. And not just because for the first time all day, the house was quiet. But because I remember being this kid in the snow and I knew moments like these burrow themselves deep into the recesses of your brain and visit you like old friends as you grow up. It's as if you get to live in two dimensions- both the child who is completely immersed in the purity of that instant in time and the adult who has that hard-earned awareness that this is life at its most beautiful. 

I've been thinking about happiness lately. Well, maybe not thinking about it so much as being more aware of it. Happiness and its various accoutrements– things like contentment, satisfaction, peace, goofiness and laughter. 

Things that, perhaps as a result of hormones, exhaustion, stress, uncertainty and new routines, have been absent for me for months (and months and months).

Have you ever felt like you've forgotten how to laugh? Like, you can force out a giggle on your kid's behalf or text an LOL that isn't accompanied by actual laughing out loud, but that deep, rich chuckle that wells up from your belly is lost? That's how I've felt. Sort of hollow in the humor department. Not sure I'd ever find anything really, truly funny again. 

When you're in that place, you're not even really aware that laughter is missing. I had a vague feeling of maybe being overly serious and morose. Kind of ho-hum about my day-to-day existence. And I grew accustomed to it. Like it was just my new way of being.

That was until I laughed again. Real, actual laughter. 

It happened in a totally nondescript, kind of obvious way. 

Brad and I decided it was time to catch up on our "Broad City."

"Broad City," for those of you who have yet to discover its awesomeness yet, is a show on Comedy Central about two best friends in their mid-20s navigating New York. It was created by and stars comedians Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. That's the Wikipedia description. 

That description would incorrectly make it seem like "Broad City" is a show my mom could watch without being shocked and appalled. The show is Not Safe for My Mom (NSFMM). Sorry mom. There's just a little too much pot smoking, profanity, sex, extreme bathroom situations, more pot smoking and absurdity for the likes of my mom. Probably many people's moms. On the other hand, I'm a mom, and I like it. So, it's not that it's not a mom-friendly show. It's just that it's not mom friendly for moms who would find a plotline involving a melted dildo distasteful or who would be grossed out by an unflushable turd getting stowed in a shoe. 

For serious though, it's super funny. And smart. And it's empowering to women. And it's about female friendship. And I love it and I wish I could be even half of the queen Ilana is.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, a short time into the first or second episode of season 4, I got my laugh back. I don't even remember what caused the laugh- probably Ilana adapting her signature "Yas queen!" into a "Yes beesh" (you just have to watch the show to get it)- but there it was. A from-the-belly, not cute, genuine guffaw. 

Man. I'd forgotten how good that felt. And it kept coming, too. The laughter. Realizing that they were bleeping Trump's name on the show as if it were an expletive. Ilana having to use her obnoxiously long fake nails to cut herself out of the ridiculous body suit she'd pooped herself in (again, it's better to have some context). Abbi's first gray hair and her accidental lentil wart.

So many moments of silliness. 

The laughter hasn't only been reserved for binging on "Broad City" though. I'm laughing more at my kids. Jovie renaming NASCAR driver Ryan Newman "Ryan Poo-man." Lily practicing for her role as a lion in her school's production of "Seussical Jr." (if ever there was a person born to play a big cat, it was Lily, who at a young age hissed at strangers and can often be found constructing "Pride Rocks" around our house for her to rule). 

I'm laughing more at the shenanigans at school. The teachers trying to figure out the identity of a student who threw an entire bag of Takis in the middle of the 8th grade hallway offering multiple aliases when confronted about his actions (I'm still not sure we know the kid's actual name- only that he told the teacher his name was one thing and the other kids say his name is William, but it might actually be Victor. It's not clear. But the preposterousness of the situation had several 8th grade science teachers and one long-term sub in stitches during lunch). 

Or, at the student who answered "Tide Pods" to the day's brainteaser "According to a new study researchers say that to be on the safe side, you should not eat this when it's more than 12 hours old." (The actual answer was snow. And seriously, kids, enough with the Tide Pods).

Brad and I are finding more moments of levity at the end of the day, too. A break from the  weight of figuring out where we're going to live next and how we're going to swing a third kid. 

Rediscovering real laughter has sort of cracked this self-constructed dam inside of me where I could only focus on problems that needed to be solved and skipped over things that were a little more lighthearted.

For instance, singing in the car. It's the most fun ever! But have I been singing in the car? No, I've been listening to NPR pretty much nonstop, which is informative, but doesn't always inspire, you know, hope for the future of our country or even hope for the duration of the day. But blasting 90s alternative while heading to school in the morning? That kind of gets you ready for the day.

I know I'm not alone in the stress department. The American Psychology Association just released the results of its Stress in America Survey which found that Americans' stress had increased for the first time in 10 years with two-thirds of Americans saying they had stress about the country's future. Meanwhile, I'd read another article (ugh and I can't find it) that was talking about ways Americans were relieving stress. And despite us being more stressed, we're not using the tools that have traditionally provided relief from stress- things like reading, listening to music, exercising or prayer- as much. We're online more. But that might be causing us more stress. It's all very complicated. 

It's all so complicated. Because you have weeks like this week where you can't just tune out the news because it's so big and tragic and infuriating. Where you have to live in this ugliness and take ownership of it because it's all our mess. I'm right there with you.

I think where I've come to rest, at least for this week, is that I can't drown in it all. That's where I get stuck and forget to laugh. When I find myself sinking deeper and deeper into this bog. 

The fact is, there are still plenty of reasons for laughter. Real laughter, not just LOL laughter. Not just meme laughter. We just have to put our phones down long enough to see it. 

And there is still joy here on this Earth, in this country even. And when we miss it, we're missing the opportunity to fill our cups. And we're not going to get a whole lot done by way of raising resilient children, nurturing community, breaking barriers and shaking up the status quo when our cups our empty. 

I've done an awful lot of crying in this life. I'm going to go ahead and choose to laugh more, too.  

Abbi and Illana would give me a big old "Yas Queen," I think.

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