When something’s good, say it.

3 Apr

My daughter and her friends in the sunshine, up a tree. A good moment

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that we need to realise when we’re having a good time. “…I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'”

I often forget to do this and the moment passes, and something not so good might happen and I’ll cling to memory of that instead, because for some reason the negative seems to have greater sticking power.

Recently though, I’ve been making a concerted effort to notice all of the good in my life. I think it’s when my husband said last week, after one of my rants about the monotony of domestic duties: “Please just stop being such a bloody martyr.” I sulked for a while, became defensive and opened a large bag of crisps. I turned to him and said: “It’s nice to see that you’ve cooked dinner for me, after I’ve just put the kids to bed and had to open the door to three sets of Jehovah’s witnesses while simultaneously speaking to Lambeth Council about the fuck-up with our council tax. Thank You. Thank you very much.” I then walked off, murmuring “Martyr, me?”

Then I started to think that maybe he’d said something with more than a small dose of truth in it. Money’s as rare as sexy underwear in my house these days and I like to blame it on that, because I sometimes believe that if I went out more and was able to afford daily help and could trade  in my old knickers for something sexier, and less roomy and family-friendly then I’d be happy. I can blame everything – from the colour of the municipal swimming pool blue paintwork on our house, to the fact that we will have to wave goodbye to a foreign holiday for yet another year – as reasons to be miserable.

And yet I know that everything I like to moan about is bollocks. When I’m sad, it’s nothing to do with the lack of things in my life. I’m just sad and there’s little that me or anyone else can do about it until the dark cloud lifts. But when I moan, that’s different. That’s not sad. That’s just inexcusable if it lasts more than a few seconds. My family and I are all healthy. We are safe. We have a roof over our heads and money to eat. That is all that matters, and anything else I might like to complain about could quite justify people calling me a spoilt brat. And believe me, it’s taken the best part of 15 years to lose that label.

Having listed the reasons that I like to blame for my unhappiness, I know that deep down I have many more reasons to be happy with my life. It’s just that I don’t very often take the time to notice them. I’d like to reveal some moments of  real – as opposed to imagined – moments of recent happiness. Having carried Vonnegut’s simple mantra in my head for the past week,  I am pleased to report back that the results are pretty pleasing. I must add that I have a terrible memory for quotes, so at times I found myself fumbling around for the right words when a happy moment hit me. One of my more tipsy joyous moments – Sunday afternoon, a friend’s sun-drenched balcony with ‘Teardrops’ by Womack and Womack playing, a cigarette dangling from my mouth and not a child in sight – was greeted with me saying “Well this is delicious. Can you imagine anything more fucking lovely than this?” to no-one in particular. The words were different but the sentiment was the same – I was enjoying a moment.

(If somebody had mentioned the word ‘moment’ to me 20 years ago, it would have conjured up images of triangle-shaped pieces of dehydrated cheese encased in a salty baked crisp coating. These Cheesy Moment snacks were revolting, and yet, for some reason I would scoff them in solitude, swapping them occasionally for Scampi Fries. If people could eat in an embarrassed fashion, then I did. I’d look apologetically at the sky and say “One day I will give all of this up. Just find me true love and I’ll never, ever eat one of these horrible, cheesy/fishy crisps again.” I still can’t understand what possessed me to eat something that smelt and tasted of unwashed genitalia, but there I was, aged 14, eating the food equivalent of a teenage tit-wank. I didn’t enjoy my adolescent years much.)

Sunday was a bit like playing a fruit machine and getting a series of jackpots. If I were Alan Partridge I might have been inclined to say “Back of the net” every few minutes. My pessimistic self would have said that the rest of the week would divebomb, but I told it to piss off. Whilst the irresistible glow of a succession of happy episodes still lives on inside of me, the feelings I’ve been enjoying – and for once really noticing – should see me through well into next week.

I wouldn’t like to paint Sunday as a picture of beautiful perfection, because it started with a shit on the carpet (the cat’s, not mine) and was followed by an impromptu fashion show before breakfast from my daughter, keen to showcase her new ‘look’ (she’d been experimenting with dayglo fabric and gold accessories for future trips to Brixton Superdrug with her friends). If checking out the new range of Impulse, dressed in fluoro sportswear is how she gets her kicks, then that’s fine with me. As long as the good feeling she gets lingers longer than the smell of cheap bodyspray.

The bits in between the cat shit and the fashion show on Sunday were pretty special. My husband, keen to encourage me to step out of martyr mode, offered to do the lion’s share of childcare (usually my territory) and even managed to set me free just after midday, despite coming straight home from a gruelling eight-hour night shift. Daylight hours at the weekend without children are not just a luxury. They never happen. My husband usually works and as a result I have a mini-breakdown two days out of seven. Imagine my glee when he opened the front door and made a sweeping gesture with his hand similar to Gene Wilder in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (I only say this because he looks a bit like him) and said “Have a good time. Be as long as you like, honestly.”. I could have kissed his feet and I literally skipped down the street thinking “For a few hours only, I am a single woman with a drink problem, and I have no regard for what time of day it is.”

And thanks to my husband, and the friends that greeted me at the pub, I had a fine old time. I ate lunch surrounded by adults and good conversation. I didn’t have to spoon feed anyone, or squeeze ketchup obligingly onto any plates. Later, at their flat, I basked in the sunshine for an hour or two, smoked a couple of usually off-limit cigarettes (then ate some toothpaste in the bathroom in case I fancied kissing my children before bed) and danced in the living room to some bad music such as “Big in Japan” by Alpahville. I left on a high and was home in time for the kids’ bedtime because to carry on would be crazy. Too much fun can be a bad thing if you have to rise with a baby at 6am.

Back at home everything was eerily quiet. I pretty soon discovered that a fight between my husband and daughter had broken out, and subsequently ended with her being sent to bed. I wanted to keep things simple rather than stick my nose in where it wasn’t needed, so I walked upstairs and into my daughter’s room.

“It sounds like you’ve been rude to dad. You’ve said some really horrible things. You better apologise in the morning.” I might have been slurring slightly, but I think she realised the error of her ways.

Then I went in to my husband who was reading our son a story, kissed them both and said “Thank you.’ It was a pretty cheesy moment but I wanted to show my gratitude. And then I crawled into bed and fell asleep with the baby. The perfect end to an almost perfect day.


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