Happiness is in the Work

Happiness is in the Work June 25, 2014

I’ve always thought my husband, the Ogre, was essentially Daryl Dixon with Russel Crowe’s face.

This is the Ogre
This is Russell Crowe









He’s such a visible badass that our neighbors’ master plan in the case of a zombie apocalypse is to “find and stick with the Ogre.” His badassery is so deeply ingrained into his character that it doesn’t often occur to him that other people don’t have the same potential buried somewhere within. When I was 8 months pregnant with Lincoln he had to go back to Vegas for a month to teach a class, and I repeatedly expressed my terror at being the “last line of defense.” His solution was to get down his samurai sword (not a copy, mind you, but real sword from a real samurai whom his grandfather had killed in WWII). He unsheathed it and slashed invisible ninjas to ribbons in our bedroom in one smooth motion, like he’s always done that on random Tuesday nights. It would have made Tom Cruise’s character in The Last Samurai wet himself. Then he handed me the sword. I took it clumsily, tried clumsily to imitate him, and dropped it on my foot before I could even get it out of the sheath. I looked up at him in despair, spreading my hands in supplication as if to say, “don’t you see? You can’t possibly leave me. I am fragile and weak and practically Victorian!

He just looked me up and down pointedly, taking into account my Dutch shoulders, my Teutonic hips, the Cherokee tree trunks that hold me upright, and my overall lack of fragility. Then he said, “Babe, I’ve lived with you for eight years. I have no doubt that if the situation demanded it you’d pull that thing out and chop someone’s head off without blinking twice.”

On the other hand, this is also the man who would cradle a newborn when everyone else was busy worrying about death and zombies, nickname her “little asskicker”, and use his bare hands to make her a totally inappropriate cradle with “little asskicker” carved into the headboard. The moment Daryl gave Judith a bottle had me in tears because it reminded me of the first time the Ogre held Sienna. Neither of us knew how to be parents. We didn’t know any babies, or anything about them. We didn’t even actually know how to hold a baby. Me, I fumbled and freaked out and panicked, but the Ogre? He just cradled her in his colossal forearms like he’d always known how tuck a tiny baby into the coziest, most natural part of his arm. It didn’t even look weird when he held her, wearing his old sweatshirt with the sleeves ripped off. It looked perfect.

I have these days sometimes where I decide that I’m going to transform EVERYTHING and start spending seriously serious quality time with the kids. For some reason, my idea of quality time always involves some sort of craft or project, so I’ll spend hours picking out the perfect ones and getting them all set up. After five minutes, Charlotte has ripped a paintbrush out of Liam’s hand (making him cry), then knocked over the paint (making her cry), all over the project, (making Sienna cry), and in the meantime the baby has smeared something all over his face that I pray to God is chocolate. We all have to spend the rest of the day watching Team Umizoomi just to recover from five minutes of serious quality time.

The Ogre doesn’t do that. He just does stuff with them, without googling it first. Last week, he sent Sienna on a walk to collect flowers. When she came home, he had her press them between books. Yesterday, he cut a manilla file folder into strips, watered down some glue, and had her glue the flowers to the strips, and then cover them with the watered down glue. I thought he was going crazy, but since he never explains himself, I didn’t ask. When they were dry, Sienna presented me with one — a bookmark, so I don’t break the bindings on my books by leaving them face-down.

Yesterday after I worked out, I was getting dressed. I was totally frustrated because six weeks into our suicide-by-HIIT campaign, I have actually gained weight, and my shorts are tighter. This is an eternal struggle I have, which is why I usually give up after two months and take refuge in brownies.

But the Ogre, God bless him, insisted that I look so much different, that I had to be wrong, and he was going to prove it to me. He got out the tape measure and took measurements to compare with the measurements we took 6 weeks ago. I could tell by looking at his face that I had, in fact, gained inches instead of losing them, but even though I already knew it, it sucked so much to have it confirmed that I just sat down and cried.

When we went to the park this morning, I was dragging. I didn’t want to go anymore. I didn’t want to do sprints in the suffocating heat, or pull-ups, or push-ups, or anything. I just wanted to feel sorry for myself. But I went, and I did it, and then I took the kids to swim lessons.

As I always do, I hesitated and hunched my shoulders a little before I took off my cover-up. But once it was off, I was like, what am I doing? I don’t analyze the bodies of everyone else at the water-park. Why do I freak out as if they will analyze mine? And anyway, what’s wrong with it? Elizabeth Duffy’s post from yesterday really was like a nice virtual back-hand. I needed it. After all, my body just carried me through 20 minutes of sprints that are not, any longer, quite so excruciating. I’m stronger and faster, but more importantly, I feel happier when I exercise. When I don’t exercise I alternate between Hulk Mommy and weepy sleepy mommy, and not much work gets done anywhere because it all seems to take too much effort.

My friend Martha said something to me once, something about how happiness is in the work, not in the result. I totally blew her off, of course, because who does she think she’s kidding?

My husband once told me that he doesn’t really know how to be a father, and sometimes he worries that he’s doing it wrong. I was incredulous, because he’s always been a fantastic father. Not in a proud or even confident way, nor in a philosophical or theoretical way, nor in a well-organized Type A kind of way. He doesn’t talk about being a father much, he doesn’t muse on the different ways to go about parenting, he doesn’t plan activities. He just picks up the baby and holds her, and spends the first night of her life asleep in a chair with her asleep in his arm. He just sees flowers and knows books are breaking and Sienna is bored and remedies it all in one fell swoop. Not because he planned it, or because he’s preternaturally gifted at fatherhood, or because he’s spent years studying parenting methods. Because when he comes up against something that he doesn’t know how to do, he does it anyway.

That’s what I admire the most about him. It’s a virtue that I have not cultivated, not even in the slightest, and what I’ve lost in the offing is a great deal of peace. I worry constantly about what I’m going to do, how I’m going to do it, and if it’s going to work. I spend far more time considering (or dreading) work than I do actually working, which leaves me feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and discouraged. I wonder how much of that would be mitigated by not focusing on the work as a means to an end, but an end in itself. I wonder what my days would look like I went about my work with the work itself in the forefront of my mind, instead of the end. I wonder if I would find, like Martha, that happiness is in the work itself.

But mostly, I wonder if I would be a badass then, too. Because let’s be honest, there’d be a lot of happiness in badassery as a state of being.


*Yes I know there is cussing in this post. I can’t help it. There is no other word that means the same thing as badass. Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Lizzie. Sorry, Margaret.


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