Happy thoughts and activities do help to keep me happy. Likewise, avoiding unhappy thoughts and activities, are a pretty effective way to boost my happiness quotient too.
These days I log 60+ miles a day driving Olivia and the boys to and from school. For me, that’s a lot more miles than the 10,000/year I’ve been used to for the last 7 years. Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually love to drive. Heck, my husband and I made 6 round trips between KCMO and NY in 2 1/2 years when we lived there. For me, driving usually means good music, think-time, pretty scenery, and, if I’m not alone, good conversation. When the boys are in the car for the 30-45 minute commute, I have a captive audience to practice their talking, pronoun concepts and answering W-questions. (If you have a 3-year-old with special needs, you can probably appreciate that.) However, one thing I’ve noticed encroaching on my happiness is the pressure to arrive at school at a particular time. Don’t get me wrong, I totally believe in getting my kids to school on time…. but it’s that deadline that creates the need to rush. And, it’s the need to rush and the actual rushing that makes me a pretty unhappy camper… or commuter.
Getting 3 slow-moving, need-help kind of kids to wake up and get ready for school each morning is no small task. I generally wake up a bit early, shower, dress, pick their clothes out and start the lunch/snack process so I can be more focused on them when they awaken. Sometimes this back fires when they wake up early with me and demand my attention… OR, when they wake up late because I’m not there. Either way, everyday, the last 10 minutes is a wild push — complete with running, yelling, and, unfortunately, sometimes tears — toward the exit door as if the house is on fire…. and I’m always going back multiple times for some forgotten but necessary item… like my eyeglasses, the boys’ juice cups or the car keys.
To add pressure, on Long Island, the commute is king! If we leave our home at 7:59 am, we’ll probably make it to school on time — assuming no accidents or road construction — because everyone else leaves at 8:00 am. But, if I leave at 8:05 am I’m positively screwed (excuse my language), backed up in traffic and stuck at multiple traffic light cycles the whole way. That 6 minute difference in departure causes a 20+ minute delay in arrival. There’s no getting around it. Every alternate route is just as backed up as our favorite route — I’ve tried everything — and I just have to sit patiently behind the wheel and wait… like everyone else. But, God help the guy in front of me who lets the garbage truck get in front of him to further delay ME! Or, curse the crew of landscapers blocking the right lane of traffic to pick up leaves for the Jones’ or Smiths. Where do they get off doing this at rush hour? RUSH HOUR! My nephews have dubbed their mother’s similar reaction — she’s doing a similar commute — as “Marshall Law”. (Marshall being our maiden names.) That is, I am so much more excitable and reactionary and outright verbal when I’m rushing like a mad-woman and missing my deadline anyway! Don’t worry, I fall short of road rage but I sure do understand it. Folks driving willy nilly, irresponsibly cutting each other off just to get to their respective destinations a minute sooner. It does sound crazy. And, I absolutely drive safely with my precious cargo! But, if I’m going to be honest with you all, I must say there are times when I sound more like a truck driver than a Mom…. sadly. And all that yelling makes me feel bad about myself and doesn’t make the boys happy either. I apologize to them and they blow me kisses (as though I’ve been hurt).
Yesterday, a young girl refused to yield to my signal and lane change, specifically speeding up and swerving into oncoming traffic JUST to make sure I didn’t get ahead of her. Mind you, there were 2 police cars with lights and sirens at a dead stop in my lane and I had more than enough room to maneuver safely into her lane as long as she didn’t speed her pace… which she did. She just didn’t want me to get ahead of her! As it happens she was going my way almost all the way home and so I steadily followed behind her as I made my way home. I could see her glancing in the rear view mirror nervously, as though I was following her, which, while I was behind her I wasn’t technically following her I was just going home. Each time I caught her eye, I smiled and waved… Enjoying her discomfort. But, by the time we got closer to home I had managed to talk myself down from my anger and wrote her off as just another terrible and selfish Long Island driver (I meet a lot of them these days). When she pulled right to turn where I would continue straight, I did seize the opportunity and rolled down my window, tapped my horn and said, “You should drive more carefully. You could hurt someone with a move like that! Admittedly, I added a name, ONLY in my head, at the end of that sentence. (See, there you were thinking I might be a totally reasonable person.) Still, she specifically stared in the other direction and never looked at me. For the record, when I have made a mistake while driving, I specifically address the driver whose space I breached and apologize, waving the white hand of surrender. Mea culpa!
Back to my happiness… I was proud that I’d quickly talked myself down from the incident, and noted that, while my calm reprimand was impressive, it didn’t actually help me feel happier… though I did get a giggle out of waving to her during the rest of the drive. I also recognize that having to rush makes me angry. I’ve tried before to get the kids to bed a half an hour earlier so that I can wake them earlier but that doesn’t work for them or me, honestly. Evenings are our together time as a family and I don’t really want to cut it short or rush around before bed. But, perhaps I could try 10-minutes earlier and see if that helps. Either way, I’ve discovered that my happiness hinges on my acceptance! Acknowledging that the last 10 minutes of every morning are going to be crazy and as much preparation as possible to smooth that transition from house to car and car to school is necessary. And, acceptance that I have no control over the traffic situation means leaving myself a reasonable amount of time to commute which may still result in our late arrival. It’s out of my control at that point. I’ll just have to fore go the mother’s guilt and work a little harder on this last piece of acceptance (so will the boys’ teacher). But, I do believe my happiness and my children’s happiness are worth it!