From the time I can remember, I watched fairytales and read stories about the perfect life that awaits me once I am older. As the years went by, I clearly knew my own family was not perfect, yet I still bought into the idea of the “perfect life” out there that I needed to attain at some point.
I decided months ago, Keaton and I would go visit my grandmother and uncle over the winter break. Matthew had to go back to work before I did, so it was the perfect opportunity. I knew it would be a long roadtrip to get to Roswell, NM, but I also knew my grandmother is aging and I don’t know how many of these opportunities I will have. I carefully planned our route to make sure we could have stops at some of Keaton’s favorite fast food restaurants (indoor playgrounds). I also packed a bag full of activities for him to do on the at least 8 hour road trip…. Now Keaton is a traveler. He has flown more times than I can count…. But this would be the longest road trip of his 5.5 years of life.
The trip down there was uneventful and Keaton handled the roadtrip like a champ. He quickly became best friends with my uncle (whose name is John, but who my mother insisted calling Frosty from the time he was a baby) who he had never met. We opened Christmas presents and watched Home Alone 2 together. The next day Keaton got to see the “aliens” around town and then Mama (my grandmother) took him to the store and bought him any food he wanted. He was the happiest boy in the world. The rest of the day we ate junk food and watched Despicable Me and Despicable 3 (we couldn’t find 2).
All was great until I woke up at 5 am the next morning with a horrid pain in my ear. I had this pain before and I knew it meant an ear infection (I had been sick, dealing with allergies for over a week). I spent the first part of the day trying to think it wasn’t there only to go to the doctor midday to find out I had a “really bad” ear infection which turned to a ruptured eardrum that night (and thank goodness it did… that was the first moment of relief). Keaton and Mama continued to watch movies through the day. Frosty and Keaton looked for birds and all was happy.
This morning was our day to leave. Keaton was missing daddy and ready to get home. As he watched a movie in the car and played with his ipad, I listened to a Ted Radio Hour podcast titled Simply Happy. It was refreshing and insightful on how happiness is really simple if we stop looking for it and look at our lives. The last part talking about gratitude leading to happiness really struck me…. Everynight we have a tradition with Keaton to do our gratefuls. We each have to say what we are thankful for that day.
As the drive continued Keaton whined and whined. He clearly didn’t feel great and just wanted his daddy. He cried and then would play ipad or watch a movie and then he would cry. I could only half hear him with kleenex shoved in my ear to catch the grossness oozing out constantly. I got him to sleep for an entire 45 minutes and was happy when I saw on my phone we only had two hours of our trip left… as we were driving through the 500th small town I hear Keaton. I know the sound so well… it is the sound of someone about to throw-up…. And then it happens. I pull over and realize it is bad… I mean really bad… like I want to just take the car to the nearest car wash and give the inside a good cleaning with Keaton in it… I quickly realize this is not an option, so I see a gas station one block away and we go there. As I get out and look at the situation I realize at this moment what happens when you are no longer the kid and you are the parent… you are the one that has to figure out what to do next… and running and screaming is not an option. I form a plan and within 20 min we are headed back home with Keaton much happier and feeling better.
As we started the last part of the drive, my mind went back to the last 24 hours and my ruptured eardrum and Keaton’s explosion. And then I think of the podcast. I realize this was not ideal, but I had so much to be grateful for in the moment… it was merely my choice to decide on how I would respond. I could focus on how much some things sucked (because it really did) or I could be grateful…. Grateful for insurance to cover an unexpected doctors visit, grateful for a grandmother and uncle, grateful for a full pack of wipes in the car to help with cleanup….
When you plan these type of family trips, your mind starts to go back to these “perfect ideals” we all saw as we were younger (or now as adults on instagram). The reality is these trips are never perfect. They are messy (literally and figuratively). They are not iconic and they might seem boring to others. There is oozing ears and a carseat filled with throw-up, but at the same time in the messiness they are exactly what you need. These moments are real and they are life. In the midst of it all there were three nights with a grandmother who adores me and my son and has dealt with more than I can imagine. In the midst of it all is an uncle who has given up so much in life to take care of his parents and I saw a new side to him as he played and talked with Keaton.
Life is messy and it will never be a fairytale. It is throw-up, it is oozing ears. It is sitting and watching your grandmother watch and laugh at the Emoji Movie with your five year old. It is listening to whining and crying for 8 hours in the car. It is seeing the most tender side of your uncle you have ever seen as he take your son’s hand to go watch the birds.
At some point we have to accept life is not going to be perfect… but to truly experience happiness in our non-perfect life we have to get to a point of gratitude for what we have in life. I truly believe this is not only the key to happiness, but it is the purpose of life.