Clicking on Happiness

The laptop (with photos) is in the shop, so I'm being creative with photos on the desktop this week, and here are some words, as I am thinking about mothering and mothers and children, as I write away about this chaotic family I've been creating in Book One of the Sixties Trilogy.

While I was still a kid (there I am with birthday cake), I knew I wanted to be a mother. I played house and was the best mother ever... I knew just what to do when my baby cried, just how to make her happy, how to feed her, clothe her, take good care of her.

I played countless games of house with my little sister, here standing between me and my best friend Gale, where I was the ever-good mother and she was the ever-good daughter. This game worked much better than playing school, wherein I was the ever-good teacher, but I just could not teach my sister how to read.

As I got older -- here I am in my senior year of high school -- I knew how I would make my mother-dreams come true, too. I would have seven children -- I even had them named -- and I would teach them everything from scratch... we would cook from scratch, sew from scratch, grow a garden, read together, sleep in a house near a strawberry patch, have a few chickens in the back yard and gently gather their eggs -- and we would exist in a small universe of our own making, loved by the Prince Charming I married, and be blissfully happy.

Well.... it didn't happen exactly that way. Here I am about a year and half after the above picture. I did get my wish. I became a mother, and I had four children. I was 18 years old when I first became pregnant, still a child myself, and I went scurrying down the rabbit hole of survival, trying for the next 35 years to make the dream I had had since childhood come true.

And sometimes, it did come true.

When we were at our poorest, we still took walks with a "possible bag" and gathered acorns and wooly worms and leaves and interesting rocks.

I rocked my children to sleep to my one James Taylor record, and I taught them every song I could remember from my own childhood -- we had a repertoire. I read to them and sang with them so much, they all talked in full sentences -- paragraphs -- before they were two years old.

We walked the mile to the library for the week's supply of books.

We sat on the grass by the Jefferson Memorial in D.C. and listened to the free concerts by the Navy and Air Force and Army bands.

We cooked together, ate together, even slept together at one point -- several points -- along the way.

And when we were less poor (but still, for several years, oh-so-careful) and found ourselves in the house we would inhabit for 25 years in Frederick, Maryland, there was a garden. Sheets blew in the breeze from the clothesline. There was a sandbox, a wading pool, a tree fort, and days of cooking from scratch and putting up strawberry jam, and canning green beans and tomatoes, and tents in the back yard, and trips to the beach, and stories told in the dark.

I tried to create an idyllic existence for us -- a caring, loving, joy-filled home. But I was only one person, working against great odds.

I wonder if that is even fair to say. But I will leave it. For much of the time, there were two of us, two parents. But doing one's duty (a relative term) is not the same as standing back and looking at each child and asking, "Who are you, today, and what do you need?" And, as a mother, it is all but impossible to listen for the answer, when the battle is raging within and without.

That may be too elliptical, but if you have been there, you will know exactly what I mean.

But you know... I tried. And I am still trying. And sometimes, it is idyllic, still today. Sometimes my dreams come true... and perhaps, as Comfort learns in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS, we take the hand we are dealt, and we create our dreams out of that hand -- we find our happiness.

I certainly have found happiness. I've found delight! I have found it all along; even in the midst of poverty, there are golden moments. There are. And all along the path there is happiness, and delight, in small moments, tiny treasures, a smile, a sigh, an understanding. Uncle Edisto reminds us that we cannot have joy without sorrow, pleasure without pain, day without night. But we are promised that the cycle begins again, every ending a new beginning. I count on that.

As I read Amanda Soule's blog, SouleMama, I nod my head, over and over, at how -- at least on the outside, with the glimpses she gives us -- she is getting it right. She's doing the things that, in my twenties and thirties, I wanted to do with my children, my family, my life. She has a good partner -- that means everything -- and she will be the first to say so. I love this blog because it reminds me of all I wanted to do right -- and often did. Often did! Yes... I did. We did. I don't have regrets as I read it. I have moments of recognition and resonance. And I cheer Amanda (and her husband) on, because I know they are making a difference in the world, and certainly in their children's lives.

I read SouleMama and think, too, that if I had had -- what? Support? Love? Empathy? Resources? A few years of growing older? The ability to think for myself earlier? Smarts? Heart? (oh, no, I had heart...) Etc... I would have had the luxury of creating fully the life I see on the page at SouleMama... but you know... it's okay. It is what it is. And that's my hand. And many times, that hand was very good.

Not wishing for what might have been is an important step in growing up, coming to terms, accepting, moving on, creating anew. Working with what is, and what might yet be -- that's where it's at. That's where authentic power lies, too... in letting go of what wasn't.

This letting go and embracing what IS, has brought me a healthy measure of forgiveness, both for myself and for others, and it has brought me, surprisingly... happiness. I love that I tried so hard even though I was so ignorant, that I got better and better as I tried, that when I stumbled (often) I picked myself up and started over again, and that I can look back on those years of raising children -- and myself -- and know that, at every turn, I did my best with what I had to work with. I'll bet you did -- do -- too.

I can live with that. I know you can, too. It's all we can ask of ourselves.

I am always learning, always at the beginning (beginner's mind, the Zen masters tell us), and because I want to learn, I know there is always a new understanding, there is always healing, there is always another chance to grow beyond where I am. And I love the learning. The Zen masters say we will even grow to love the pain. I'm waiting on that one. So is Comfort.

In the meantime, I read SouleMama each week, and here are the other blogs, related to my current studying and longtime interests and comfort reading, that I am clicking on:

Little Homestead in the City -- when I was a teenager in the late '60s and early '70s, I wanted to live off the land, not in a commune, but I wanted to be self-sufficient, with Prince Charming and our kids, and I thought that was the way to save the planet and live a wholesome life, with my granola recipe and a lotta heart. It didn't happen that way, but the Dervaes family is making their living-off-the-land lifestyle work, in Pasadena, California, in the middle of their neighborhood, and 100 yards from a freeway. I find their blog fascinating, and I read it weekly just to see what they are harvesting and eating, but also for ideas for my own homestead, here in Atlanta, as I work toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

101 Cookbooks. Y'all have heard me talk about Heidi Swanson's blog before, especially her Lively-Up Yourself Lentil Soup recipe. Most cooking blogs are for-reading, for me, but I actually make many of the recipes that Heidi posts.

Wish Jar. Keri Smith's blog. Keri doesn't post as much as she did before her son was born, but I love her take on creativity and art.

There are more, but this will do for now... just wanted to connect this week, as I work away on the next book, and think about the days when I was ten, and when my own kids were ten, and remember what I loved about those days.

I'm re-creating them in the Sixties Trilogy, and also in real life. When the workers are done in three weeks' time, I will have a sewing room downstairs, into which will go all I've been saving and storing all over the house, squirreling away for literally years, working at a card table or kitchen table, waiting for just such a room.

Now there will be a structured place for the fabric, notions, yarns, quilting supplies, knitting and crochet needles, paints, brushes, construction paper, glue, patterns galore, buttons, and more... daughter Hannah and I are excited about the possibilities. There will be space for a desk for Hannah and a long work table for me.

There will also be a storage room for future jars of jam, should we get so industrious again. There will be an official laundry room as well -- indispensable! I sewed some of each child's clothes years ago -- I will make a quilt with the clothes I've saved. I'll make more clothes. I'll make... the list is endless. To create....

Today, as I come off the road frenzy and enter summer, the garden grows outside, the canoe waits on its sawhorses, and maybe I will even make a sandbox... my staff comes over every day to visit, and she tells me she needs a sandbox. Maybe I'll pull out that wading pool, too. It's never too late.

It's never too late for dreams to come true, to choose to live in that caring, loving, joy-filled home that is the reality I've worked toward all my life, to continue to ask my now-grown children, "Who are you, and what do you need today?" and be able to listen, listen with the perspective of years and experience and beginning again, over and over... and from a place of happiness and safety and purpose I have created for myself and those I love (that lovely, extended family of chance and choice)... with a Prince Charming thrown in for good measure. Who knew? Who knew. Who knew.


  1. This was just a beautiful post! Blessings to you!


  2. Thanks, Kristina. Blessings to you as well! Deborah Wiles


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