Tuesday, August 2, 2011

When You Can't Fix It, Make Someone Else Happy

Many years ago when I was in an unhappy marriage, I got some advice from my therapist that didn't work.

It's not so much the marriage that was unhappy, but the two people in it. The root cause of our unhappiness was not each other. Unbeknownst to me, he was descending into schizophrenia. Me, I was trying to crawl out of life-long, low-grade depression.

I came to a point of frustration. Frustration with my husband. Frustration with myself. Frustration with the marriage itself. It was stagnant. It was institutionally and fundamentally sad. I felt helpless to change any of it, most of all myself.

"Sometimes when you are unable to make yourself happy, it can help if you try and make someone else happy," my therapist suggested.

This was new.

This was different.

This was mildly annoying.

Yet I did attempt acts of kindness for my then husband. I offered back rubs. I made meals. I tried to strike up conversation. I even left the couch and slept in our marital bed for a change. I spooned.

None of it worked. Not even a little.

I was even more miserable for having tried it and failed, and he didn't seem the slightest bit interested in any of my gestures. I chalked it up to some monumentally bad advice from an otherwise terrific therapist. Yet here I sit, a decade later, and I still remember that advice. It stuck with me for a reason.

What I have found is that I am able to follow my therapist's advice when it comes to my children.

For instance, I was thrown for a loop this weekend. I rather spastically and inexplicably threw my new Blackberry Torch in the bathtub with my baby daughter. I know! It seems impossible, but it happened. I'd been holding it a few feet away from the tub when it started to slip. Rather than let it fall harmlessly to the floor, I freaked out and started bobbling and batting at it until I hurled it high into the air, where it made an Olympic dive into a bubble bath.

I can still hear the splash.

I'll spare you the details of the three AT&T stores I visited, the multiple visits and phone calls, the black tape, the out-of-town husband, the one-year-old and seven-year-old children who couldn't wait that long in a store, the benevolent niece who accompanied me and talked me out of my cellular-induced emotional breakdown. (Slight exaggeration, but I was pretty riled and I'm normally unruffled by such things).

It all added up to me being a pretty high-strung madre by Sunday afternoon.

So I took my children to Chuck E. Cheese. There was so much built-up tension on the Saturday of the Smartphone Swan Dive, I knew something had to give. My seven-year-old son is a sensitive little soul. He was worried about me. He knew I was agitated, irritated and mad about my phone. He gave me a lot of moon-eyed looks of concern. I felt bad about that.

Because I couldn't fix me and I couldn't fix my phone situation until regular business hours on Monday morning, the only things I could fix were the two little people who depend on me. I packed them up and took them to Chuck E. Cheese for no damn reason on a Sunday afternoon.

I'm basically a parenting god.

My son was overjoyed. He couldn't believe his good fortune. My one-year-old daughter wandered around admiring the sights and sounds for two hours, uncomplaining and thoroughly entertained. She had a sweet little smile on the toddler rides and toddler slides. My son marched around with a cup overflowing with tokens and tickets draped around his neck like a paper garland.

That night, I went upstairs and examined my son's face as he slept, his arms wrapped around his stuffed kitty. Such a cherubic face. The round cheeks, the dark lashes, the tender little hand curled under his chin. He's such a tall, slim boy now and he's getting so big I can barely hold him, but in the darkened room I saw him for the little boy he still is. And he was at peace with his world.

I made somebody happy.

Maybe there's hope for me yet.


  1. I hate when I try and do something nice for someone and it goes unappreciated.

  2. I think the real lesson here is that you should have gotten an iPhone. ;)

    Seriously though, I love this message. I'm going to carry it around with me from now on.

  3. P.S. I love your balls. I mean the blue ones. Ugh. Never mind. I like the happy face orb thingy you included as a picture.

  4. @Whiskey Girl: It really sabotaged my attempt at doing something selfless. Ha.

    @Eva: LAUGH!

    You'll be happy to know, I'm using a borrowed iPhone as we speak.

  5. Add me to your list of people you made happy. I liked this story and smiled throughout. Happy!

  6. I loved this. It's something I've been...wrestling with I guess? I know I could be making more effort, especially since I would appreciate it from others, not with G, but with my husband, others in my life. Nothing huge, just little things you know? I just have to go for it.

    Eva is entertaining.

  7. If/when you toss your phone in the water again (or it gets some astronaut training in the toilet from Grace):

    1) take the battery out
    2) submerge the phone in a bowl of rubbing alcohol (the alcohol pushes the water out of the phone)
    3) bury the phone in dry rice (you'll be surprised how much cooked, pork-fried rice WONT help) and leave in the rice for a day (two is better but I know you wouldn't be able to wait that long).

    It doesn't always help, but it usually does and it's a bricked phone anyway so trying doesn't hurt.

  8. My guess is that it didn't work on your past husband because as you said, he was slipping into schizophrenia. That could have made him more unresponsive to what I think is quite good advice. I'm glad to see how it has come full circle in your life.

  9. I really enjoyed this and not just because we have a similar past. I don't have kids but I have had to visit a Chuck E. Cheese (don't ask) so I know what a parenting God you are. :) I'm still in therapy from that visit. Ha!

  10. I've also heard that when you feel like you have nothing, you should volunteer. I think that taking our minds off our own misery and giving back to someone else is almost always a two-for-one deal where both people end up happy in the end.

    The trick is that both sides have to appreciate it. And sometimes in relationships, that's not the case. Your kids are lucky to have such a giving mama.

  11. @Wow: Thank you. And go me!

    @Amelia: Eva is on a roll.

    @Svaha: The first thing I should have done was not plug it in. It's fried rice now.

    @Padded Cell: That's my guess too.

    @The Vegetable: Fortunately it was a quiet Sunday so I kid of got off easy.

    @Mel Heth: Well, they were on Sunday anyway.

  12. Oh, honey. You're up for sainthood in my book.

    Chuck E. Cheese, I have said for years, is like dying and going to hell, to me.

    You're a better Mom than I were, Gunga Din.

  13. Perhaps your therapist was shooting more for the 'random act of kindness' sort of happiness rather than your [former] husband specifically.

    One of my favorite sayings is "If the momma isn't happy no ones gonna be happy." Since I'm not the momma, it isn't the least bit selfish...

    Isn't it odd how having good reflexes can often make things worse?

  14. That is awesome!

    Also a good thing for you. Chuck E Cheeses means no dishes, no cooking and you get to enjoy the kids having a great time. Total WIN!

  15. @Susan in the Boonies: I actually used to feel the same way about Chuck E. Sleeze but then they remodeled mine and I'm a convert.

    @Cary: Ha. My husband says the same saying. You both must be geniuses.

    @One Bad Pixie: Solid point! Happiness + No Mess.

  16. I love my parents, a lot.

    But I kind of want to travel back in time and be your kid.

  17. What a great Mom you are. And how lucky that some of that happiness rubbed off on you!

  18. I agree with Cary. I think you had the right advice but the wrong target.

  19. I loved reading this. Advice to remember.

  20. i lol-ed at your seven-year-old son giving you a lot of moon-eyed looks of concern. BAHHAHAHAHA!!!

    you are a sweetie. a good person. it is nice to be kind and sweet to others, particularly those that deserve it and appreciate it. :)

  21. There certainly IS hope for you. :-)

    Sweet insight.


  22. I agree with Eva...you should have gone with the iphone. And I say this as a Torch user. ;) In any event, this made me really happy. And I think it's awesome advice, it just came at the wrong time. Now I'll remember it.

  23. and in doing something nice for those sweet babies, you did something nice for yourself.. look how you felt after, when you saw them enjoying themselves, sleeping so sweetly.
    It sounds perfect.

    I threw some things in the wash about a month ago and heard a noise and thought, oh crap, the washing machine is broken.
    It was my little cell phone, going around in the cycle, banging on the glass for me to rescue it.
    So far, there is no battery to be found for it but we have hopes that it is not really dead, only in a coma .
    The iPhone just sits around the house and acts snooty.

  24. You're a parenting god. Of course there's hope for you.

    And I second what Wow said. Your blogs make me happy.

  25. @Just Me: I have my moments. Good ones and bad ones!

    @Logical Libby: I suspect that was what the therapist was up to all along.

    @bluzdude: Perhaps.

    @Blissed Out: Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    @drollgirl: But oh to give it to those who don't appreciate it too. That would be something.

    @Pearl: Thanks, Pearl. I have a sweet little tutor.

    @Kim: Hahaha. All you iPhone users are laughing at my submerged Blackberry. ;-)

    @a Broad: I have a borrowed iPhone right now who doesn't get a chance to act snooty. I'm all over it.

    @Vapid Vixen: Then I'm twice blessed. Or thrice.

  26. Excuse my language, but that is just fucking beautiful.

  27. man, wonderful post. also, not sure you saw this from the other day...

    my boys call chuck e. cheese, chuckie jesus. we've been once. I bow down to you for going with out a bday party to attend.

  28. " details of the three AT&T stores I visited, the multiple visits and phone calls, the black tape, the out-of-town husband, the one-year-old and seven-year-old children who couldn't wait that long..." I see this seen in slow motion as the Blackberry Torch spins out of your hands and splashes into the water you have sort of a mini near death experience on behalf of the drowned device...Not sure why I came up with that but it seems plausible. :)

  29. Perfectly put. For most people it really is the small things that make a difference down the road

  30. Yet another example of the AT&T relationship being one of the saddest relationships of the modern age. AT&T is like your exhusband. You want it to work because your love your phone (or kids) but nothing you do will change the obvious fact that it's just not working and it never will.

  31. Thank you, this was a wonderful post. I have someone very dear to me who is emotionally sick, too. It's good to remember that my failure to make her happy has never been a failure of me or poor effort or even wasted time. It's her illness. But kindness indeed has a purpose. There was a point in my life when I thought I was stupid and vulnerable for being kind. Now it's good to see how wrong that attitude was. Kindness is strength; it takes "guts". And, yes, it's even better when it's reciprocated. You surely deserve that. Thanks for the happiness you pass onto strangers like me, too.

  32. If I had a family I would probably think of a better answer than what I offered. It's been a long time since I felt protected and loved by another person.Before my mother passed away she wanted to let me know that if I found myself alone and with no family , that I should remember that I was truly and unconditionally loved . It was more important to my mother to help me be happy after she was gone rather than complain about her own suffering. She was more worried about me than herself.

  33. Sorry to respond to The last Santa here too, Mandy, but his comment hit me. TLS, your mother's words are exactly what I feel for my own children. She was so right. And friends can make amazing family members too. Let them love and protect you. We all need and deserve that.

  34. I meant loved and protected as only parents can. The Japanese regret mostly not being a child. Childhood is considered the happiest one can ever hope to be and so this is missed the most in Japanese culture.

  35. This comment has been removed by the author.

  36. Of course I might be wrong about the Japanese Why did I even bring it up? D

  37. i can identify with this post. not that i took my kids to C.E.C. when my marriage fell apart, but ya know. everything else.

  38. Hey Mandy! Was nice meeting you on the way to Sparklecorn! I was just checking out your blog and saw this post about some technical difficulties, so I guess it was pretty serendipitous that I ran into you and was able to give you a new phone! If you ever have any issues again, just let me know and I'll do my best to help you!