Today I misjudged how long it would take me to get lost and then get back to meet up with a group of moms I was meeting for the first time. I ended up being more than an hour late getting together with them. I mentioned my concerns about time out loud while driving the kids back west from Needham.
“We’re going to be really, really late meeting these moms,” I told my daughter, who was riding in the backseat with her brother. “I hope they aren’t upset with me for being so late.”
My daughter was quiet a few moments before saying, “If I were a grown-up and I had kids and you were supposed to meet me at the park, I wouldn’t be mad at you for being late, Mommy.”
Why the reassurance of a six-year-old would help, I’m not sure, but it really did. It helped me pause and reflect on all of the things I was saying to myself about myself because I was late, that I was over-scheduling myself, that I was going to seem flakey, that it was going to seem like I didn’t care about meeting with them, that they would dismiss me as a possible friend because I wasn’t reliable.
My daughter’s comment helped me realize that she loves me unconditionally, and that that’s the kind of friendship I’m looking for. If a group of moms refuses to even consider me as a friend because I’m late getting to the park, that just narrows the field for me. I don’t want that many friends anyway.
As it turns out, the reception I received when I arrived at the park—one of the moms walking over to my car when I’d barely gotten out of my seat, giving me a big smile and introducing herself with a handshake—was more in line with my daughter’s reassurances than they were with my worries.
In Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, Inman fears his experiences in the war have made it impossible for him to mix back into society. During his long travels back towards his home in western North Carolina, he happens upon a woman who’s lived alone with her herd of goats for nearly three decades.
The image that comes to mind when I think of these two characters is of that test they give at the optometrist where they give you double vision and then gradually make an adjustment and you’re supposed to tell them when the two images match up. I imagine Inman and the hermit woman are one image and the other image is the place they’d fit in the rest of the world. But instead of matching up seamlessly, these two images never quite fit. The edges always overlap slightly. They look like they ought to fit, but they don’t.
I frequently feel this way myself. Mostly it’s confusing, and kind of lonely. I try to suss out what I could be doing differently to fit better into my world, and no matter what I do, I never quite line up with the space available for me.
I realized this month that part of my reason for undertaking this Happiness Project is to try to fit better in the world. I’d just like to feel less disoriented in social situations. The Friendship focus in April and June’s Sharing Happiness focus are particularly oriented towards this goal. Neither has really shaved off my edges enough for me to fit comfortably, but this month I have sensed something of a letting go.
I still feel nervous getting together with people, but for the first time, I don’t feel particularly embarrassed letting people know that I’m trying to connect with them and build a friendship with them. I’ve begun voicing the things that feel uncomfortable in a conversation (mostly things that I do but would rather not, like responding readily to questions about myself but not easily coming up with questions about the other person), and thanking people with a smile for things they’ve done that have helped me feel happier or more welcome.
In a way, I’m allowing myself to feel more open and vulnerable. This is either wonderful timing for making new friends in a new part of the country, or it’s horrible timing because these are tough-skinned New Englanders who are going to see my exposed underbelly as an opportunity to wound. I tend to think it’s the former, and so far my experiences have borne that out.
When I expect people to be kind and helpful, they generally are.
The plan for July, the last month of my year-long happiness project, is to take what’s worked for the other eleven months and apply those resoutions with renewed vigor. An earlier bedtime is something that worked well for me, as was eating no sugar and drinking no alcohol. Noticing judgmental thoughts has become a habit with me, but breathing several times a day could use a little more attention. I’d like to get back to taking a picture of the kids each day and making a point of acting silly with them. Decluttering is sure to accompany unpacking our possessions at the end of this month. I’m guessing other resolutions will rise to the surface as the month wears on.
By the end of the month, if all goes according to plan, we should be moving into our new home. This is exciting, but it also means that much of the month will be spent living in a hotel. In such close quarters for so long, I might find myself longing for the goat-herding and cheese-making life of the hermit woman in Cold Mountain (who am I kidding? I already do), but what better time to focus on happiness and what works to increase my happiness and bring me closer to my family?