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November 11, 2021

Reflections on the Pursuit of Happiness & Beauty from a Mother.

“Oh for goodness sake, just do it please!”

I scream hysterically at my husband, the reason for which has already escaped me. With the last bit of energy, I angrily push the washing into the washing machine, switch it on, grab my keys, and shout “I am going out for a walk!”

It’s a cold but sunny autumn day as I switch on my music, store my keys away, and embark on one of my regular walks.

As I strut off like a sulking child, I reflect on the tasks that I just ticked off, the ones yet to come, and the ones I thought I had offloaded on to my better half.

So much to do, so much to try and not forget as the wave of family admin swaps over me, enveloping me with its suffocating anxiety of losing the race. No sooner is one chore ticked off than two others are added to the ever-growing list of swim class bookings, shopping lists, and school projects—all supervised by me in a constant state of hypervigilance.

I cross over the busy high street and reach the park. Ladies walking their dogs, little children trying to balance on their bikes, a jogger running past me while smiling. I smile back although he has long passed me by, and that smile, my own, finally cracks me open.

My breath steadies, my eyes look over the width of the tennis courts, and I can see the beauty again. I can see all the people enjoying this glorious day. I see the tennis coach tossing the yellow balls patiently and gently to the queue of eager students, the elderly lady bending down to her grandchild to readjust the woolly hat, and the boy breaking off part of his sandwich and handing it to his companion. A somewhat pre-loved plastic ball rolls to my feet with a dog stopping right behind it, looking at me with his tail wagging. “Come on already,” his eyes say as I lift the ball up and gently throw it toward his owner.

Why is it so easy for me to see this beauty and yet at home, I am allowing myself over and over again to be swept away by the smaller picture of crumbs left on the table and socks tossed into corners? In the more or less six years of hectic family life, so far, I am always amazed at how little I have managed to close the gap between the fire-fighting, hectic tick-boxing mother who I am and the gracious, calm, and joyful mother I would like to be. The one from the yogurt advert that hands everyone a dangerously red-looking cherry yogurt and smiles forgivingly when her son drops its entire contents on his crisp, white shirt—all the while wearing perfect makeup, sitting in a beautifully decorated kitchen.

I remember when I returned to work after my maternity leave, one of my female colleagues with teenage children said to me: “I do sometimes regret not being more present with the children when they were little. They grow up so quickly and I wish I would have just stopped in the day and really enjoyed their presence.”

I think about this often, mainly when I realize I have not done so. Sometimes, when we are painting something while listening to Classic FM and, somehow, there is a moment of calm, I feel overcome with such love and joy as I observe their beautiful faces, steeped in concentration and dedicated to the task at hand.”

There is then a split second when the feeling of gratitude and deep affection is so overwhelming, it takes my brain a good few moments to catch up and understand how lucky I really am. This is just before the dirty water from the watercolor accidentally gets tossed on the floor and Bach’s violin sonata is drowned out by my verbal finger-pointing and eye-rolling response.

As I walk up to my favorite street with the kind of grand houses I love to admire but don’t want to own (purely because of the unimaginable increase in household chores mentioned above), I pledge to myself once more to pay more attention to the beauty of these moments: the watercolor moments, the opening of the first advent calendar door, and the joy a bubble bath can bring to the little fingers as they form foam balls—the memories of which make me smile.

“Now and then,” writes Guillaume Appolinaire “it is good to stop in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”

I assume what he meant to say by this is to stop the constant grasping for more, different, or better, and take a pause to perhaps realize what we wanted all along is already here.

“I am happy,” I realize. “I am just too scared to say it out loud.”

“I am blessed and I am happy.” There.

As I leave the park, my eyes linger on a newly decorated park bench. Colorful ribbons are tied around it with a commemoration plaque in the middle:

“Gordon Winter. October 30th, 1956 – July 4th, 2020.

He loved it here.

He loved his life.

He loved both Rufus and his wife.”

And next to it dangled a little brown tag with the handwritten words “Happy Birthday, darling x.”

I welled up as I walked back home. What a potent reminder that what really matters in life is not if we get everything right or if our kids eat steamed vegs every single day. What really matters the most is that we show up every day and just love. Love those who are in our lives and be happy.

I turn the key, take the stairs up two by two, throw my arms around my husband, and plant a kiss on his cheek. Then, I slowly follow his slightly perplexed gaze over my shoulder down toward the once crème-colored carpet where I had left a wet and muddy trace giving away the hastiness of my rediscovered happiness.

“I will hoover it off once it’s dry,” I say adding it to my list.


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