“You’re only as unhappy as your unhappiest child,” my friend who has cancer says.
I believe her. You have to accumulate a lot of stress and heartache to get cancer. It’s easy enough to acquire. A small bad habit, like eating too much sugar, something I’ve done since 5-ever, can morph into a full blown health issue after decades of abuse — despite my overindulgence, so far, I’ve managed to eat enough spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower to counteract all the bad that goes with a daily pocketful of M&M’s and any other chocolate crosses my path — and if you add the passive brain that perseverates over our daily lists of to-do’s and the lack of time to achieve them; the stress of not being able to make your loved ones’ lives the bed of roses that, as parents, we believe we should have planted for them; compounded with a world that has been behaving dizzyingly poorly since we crossed over into the new millennium (as the fever-pitch level of crazy this last year has proven); and faster than quicksilver you’ve fallen into a negative mental groove that could easily manifest into something unwanted without you ever having thought too much about it until one day, pop, the dis-ease has snuck up on you without notice or regard, a fresh daily hell. Dosed up on that kind of grief, anger or worry, you are walking around unhinged like 20 out of 24 hours a day because even your dreams are addled. That’s what a seriously unhappy child can do to you.
All kids are unhappy at one time or other, but it’s the long-standing and life-altering unhappiness that is difficult to navigate, the kind that leaves parents hollowed out from worry and kids frozen by discontent. And whether it’s Covid-related or the stress of modern life or the world inflicting its current manic state upon our offspring, I don’t know, but I currently have several friends who are walking on hell’s coals with, by, or because of one of their children. We humans are fragile bubbles of emotion, and when the life we are owed is upended by a series of accidents or unfortunate incidents masquerading as seemingly impossible barriers to the happiness we believe we deserve we go “tits up” which those of you in the military will recognize as Total Inability To Support Usual Performance — i.e., flat on our backs.
To have children is to commit to a lifetime of suffering. Their aches are your aches. Their losses, your losses. Their victories, only theirs, which somehow doesn’t seem fair but, hey, that’s the way it is. If my parents had a nickel for every night I came home after curfew and promised not to do it again, or said “yes, Mom,” or “yes, Dad,” and did the exact opposite, or lied through my teeth so I wouldn’t miss the bonfire before the big football game or the fill-in-the-blank thingee, they would have been rich, I suppose, but what does the universe care of nickels? The universe deals in Karma, and my own Karma has been to house kids who think nothing of curfews or communication as to the where’s, when’s and how’s, who often saw questions such as “what time will you be home” as an infringement on their personal freedoms. Payback, like Karma, is a big fat bitch.
I remember the time when, still in high school, I cut the headlights and pulled into my parent’s driveway at 4 a.m. after a night out with friends. The lights in the house were all off and I was home free — woohoo! — or so I thought, until I walked into the living room and saw the red ember of my father’s cigarette glowing in the dark. I was supposed to be home at midnight. There were no cellphones then, but there were pay phones and you could always ask to use the phone of whatever establishment or house you were in. I wonder how many cigarettes my father smoked that night, waiting for me to come home, nervously pacing the floor, smoke, pace, smoke, pace. So yes, for all those times I kept my dad waiting up in the dark with only a lit cigarette for company, I have been paying it back for years now, my only consolation being that my children will understand one day when their own karma kicks in.
Do you have a child that can vacillate between happy and unhappy from day to day, sometimes minute to minute? If you think the latter is some kind of poetic license, you’ve not been in close personal contact with today’s offspring. The behavior of today’s offspring is enough to worry even the most robust of parents. Then again, when I think back to my days at this age, I was probably more mercurial than most. Karma? Genetics? Not enough sleep? Too much stress? It’s not like there’s any of that these days, right? Too much sugar? Is half the minor population ADD or ADHD and on adderall? Is it the food? Have pesticides finally done us in by changing the biology of an entire generation?
The joy and pain of every mother is the labor and the leaving; ten months of having that baby all to yourself and then they pop right out of you and into the world, no longer yours to control. The joy and pain of every parent is watching that child grow to maturity and then walking right out the door where you can no longer hover about, making sure it all goes according to plan. The joy and pain of every parent is watching your child become exactly who they are meant to be and not feeling personally responsible for getting them there and not taking it personally when they don’t achieve every last one of your dreams because — their life, their dreams.
You are only as happy as your unhappiest child. The best we can do as parents then is to raise the happiest children we can. Then maybe we, too, will have a shot at happiness. That means letting them lead when life and opportunities warrant so they can test their own limits and abilities. The trick is not to get hung up on the outcome either way.
Good luck to all of us with that one. I, for one, am going to need it.
It is International Women’s month. Go thank a woman you love — give her a big hug while you’re at it.
pam lazos 3.6.21