Sunday, January 09, 2011

Happiness in a vacuum

“Don’t get any ideas,” I said to my son Evan as we wheeled toward the hysterical child in the grocery store, whose screams were starting to rip up floor tiles and fling them against the poultry freezers.

“I told you no and that’s it!” his father yelled, taking the child by the arm and pulling him down the nearest aisle. The screams faded away as the happy family disappeared into the English-muffin-lined horizon.

“Uh oh,” Evan said.

“Uh oh,” I agreed.

Evan has said a few different words in his life (like “cow” and, I swear, “front door”), but mainly he just says “uh oh” for everything. Since there’s always a toddler around when he’s saying it, it’s usually in the proper context.

He’s developed an entire language based on that one word, like how “dude” works for teenagers. At least that’s how “dude” worked when I was a teenager, back when the world was new and text was a noun.

I’ve been watching parents in public lately, trying to figure out if they seem happier than people without kids. My wife Kara and I were recently shaken up by an article that quoted a Harvard psychologist as saying that spending time with her children gives an average mother the same amount of happiness as vacuuming.

“That’s a ridiculous comparison,” I said. “How can Evan compete if he doesn’t even have upholstery attachments?”

The article also said that while marriage generally increases happiness, having children generally decreases it. People living with small children are the least happy people of all, perhaps because they’re the only ones who haven’t been able to see “True Grit” yet.

My guess is that, at any given moment, parents of young children might not be all that stoked to be cleaning yogurt off the ceiling, or poop off of themselves. But there’s a satisfaction that comes from parenting, a fullness that can’t be earned any other way, except, apparently, from giving your carpet a good going-over. In any event, there does seem to be a general consensus among us breeding types that we wouldn’t go back. Or maybe we’d only go back long enough to take that trip to Scotland, but then it’s straight back to bibs, Boppies and barf.

For the child, the family arrangement is a pretty sweet gig. Imagine, for a moment, that all you had to do was go, “Mwaah!” to set a team of people trying to make you happy, like you were an Indy car with your own pit crew.

“You want food?” they would ask. “Bananas? No? Okay, you loved bananas yesterday. A slice of ham, perhaps, or maybe a grilled cheese? Or maybe you’re tired. Or cold. Or perhaps your ears just popped, or you have a new tooth coming in.”

Meanwhile, you can just sit back and relax. Or scream until they figure it out.

As I wrote the preceding paragraphs, my sister instant-messaged me from her vacation in Jordan. After checking in to see how we were doing, she wrote, “The Bedouin Desert Camp was truly amazing. We just took a jeep tour through the desert.”

Sure, seeing fantastic new places sounds nice and all, but having kids lets you experience new things without leaving the house, like scraping macaroni off the fridge, or watching various electronic devices bouncing down the stairs.

Whatever Harvard psychologists may say, for us, parenthood has been an experience we’d never trade. How else can you have adventures every day, right in your own living room? Without turning on the TV, I mean.

Anyway, the point is that Evan brings us happiness that we could never imagine otherwise. And it’ll only be doubled once we teach him to work the vacuum.

You can drag Mike Todd past the English muffins at

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