A high school friend and I were catching up on our collective seven children as we power walked on a Saturday morning for Raleigh’s Krispy Kreme Challenge. “Five miles, one hour, a dozen doughnuts,” my participation medal reads. I’ve etched on the back “and no shame.”
I actually only ate two of the dozen doughnuts handed to me at the half-way mark, which was the beloved the Krispy Kreme on Person Street. I usually eat three in one sitting when I go there, without hustling five miles so I consider the Krispy Kreme Challenge quite a healthy outing.
It was also good for my mental health to spend time with Ann, whom I see a few times a year. She has four kids and I have three, so it takes a while to bring each other up to date on everybody. On this particular morning, the Earth must have been tilting just right on its axis because none of our offspring was unhappy at school, in the hospital with lyme disease, waiting alone at a deserted dock after missing the ferry from Holland to Harwich, about to lose their license for too many speeding tickets or asking us to take in that Springer Spaniel we begged them not to adopt.
“It’s a good week,” Ann laughed. “Because a mother is only as happy as her least happy child.”
I stopped in my tracks, even though I could smell those glazed originals just around the corner.
“I hate that saying. It means basically a mother will only be happy if she has one child and that child never has a single problem in life,” I said. “Of course that’s not possible. But you have more than one child and the odds go up exponentially that there will never be a time when everyone is happy.”
“You’re exactly right,” Ann said. “Even if all our combined seven kids are okay at this very moment, you know by noon something is going to happen to somebody. Having all our happiness tied to their happiness is no way to live.”
“And notice the saying is ‘A mother is only as happy as her least happy child.’ Fathers can go on and be happy when the sky is falling on their kids but mothers have to feel the pain,” I said.
By now we had reached Krispy Kreme and I was stress-eating my two doughnuts. Okay. So maybe it was four. But it was for a good cause. The Krispy Kreme Challenge raised $175,000 for UNC Children’s Hospitals.
I am positive the mothers and fathers of children in those hospitals have lost all concept of happiness as their kids suffer serious illnesses. Those are the kinds of real problems parents feel deeply and can’t escape.
But the daily– no, hourly– ups and downs of our children winning a game, or missing a ferry, landing a job or getting detention, shouldn’t dictate a mother’s happiness. We should be there to offer advice, but more often to just keep our mouths shut and listen and console. (Because that’s what they really want nine times out of ten.) Then we hang up, close the bedroom door or drop them at school and go on with our lives. We’re not living theirs. When our kids reach a certain age, I’d say 16, unless there are serious, awful issues, mothers determine our own happiness. Not our least happy child.