The other day, while driving over to the Botanical Gardens, Isla told me she wanted a toy to make her happy. It's not the first time she said it, and I do believe that I cringed equally as hard the first time, but again... I found myself trying to explain the difference between a short-term fix and true happiness.
I grew up in a small town. My parents started having kids when they were babies and weren't exactly Rockefellers', if you catch my drift. A big night out for us was sitting in the parking lot behind McDonalds eating our usual, HFC (i.e., hamburger, fries & Coke), while my parents dipped into their bag of Rueben sandwiches. My mother would let me eat her pickle, which was always a little warm from being in the bag, but I didn't mind. We'd sit quietly, enjoying every last morsel and, if we were lucky, my father would make the drive to Cannon's; world's best ice cream. The only memory I have of Cannon's was driving down a long, winding road that lead to a small parlor in the middle of a field where they made the most amazing raspberry ice cream. If I close my eyes, I can still feel the thick cream plastered to the roof of my mouth. It was truly one of my favorite things growing up.
On other (very rare) occasions, we'd pack up the Oldsmobile; throw on our best PJ's and head to the drive-in. I remember being so excited that we were allowed to wear our pajamas outside-what a blast! When we got about a mile from the theater, my dad would pull the car over and give us the signal. Then my brother and I would each grab our blankets and go to our respective corners on the floorboard of the car. I'd curl up into a tight ball and mom would throw my blanket and a couple pillows on top of me. "Now don't move," my father would demand, "I'll let you know when it's safe to get up." The car would slowly make its way toward the entrance, and then we could feel it slowing down. Sometimes there was a line and we'd have to lie quietly for what seemed like an eternity, but usually it went pretty quick. Then we would hear the cashier ask my father, "How many?" "Two adults," he'd reply, and we would quietly let out a muffled giggle. When we got the okay from Dad, my brother and I would leap out of our dugouts and head for the swing, which were located at the front of each screen. In those days, it was safe for us to play in our pajama's at night (in public); then our parents, signaled by the Looney Tunes theme, would start to drag our reluctant bodies back to the car. I don't think I could name one movie I ever saw back then, but I do recall waking up one night to my parents watching Dirty Harry, and I remember feeling a little scared, but really, REALLY happy.
"A toy will never make you happy, sweetheart, it can't... it isn't REAL!" I explained, "...and even if it were real, it couldn't make you happy! Do you know where happiness comes from?" I asked. "No," she sighed. "From right here," I said, pointing to my heart. "No one, no-THING can make you happy. Toys are fun to play with, but the fun dies down after a while. You'll never find true happiness in a Barbie doll or a puppy or even with Mommy, because happiness comes from within you. Does that make sense?" I asked with little hope. "Yes. NOW can I have a toy?" <Laughter>
I may not have gotten through that time either; but, much like a dog on a bone, I won't give up easy, and eventually she'll sink her teeth into some of it. Until then, I'll just keep taking her to playgrounds, dog-parks, gardens, museums, movies and any other place that allows me to etch a deeper sort of happiness into her tiny little soul. Wish me luck!