How To Be Happy (According To My Infant Daughters)

Life tends to fly by when you have a kid, but the blur can be beautiful.

by Michael Perone
Grandpa, dad, and child standing together in nature

They say, “Time flies when you’re having fun,” and no disrespect to my daughters, but I don’t think it was just the “fun” part that made these past six years fly by so fast. I would include an addendum to that oft-quoted phrase and say, “Time also flies when you’re incredibly busy.” My days are full to overflowing. After my wife and I return from our full-time jobs, our real job begins at home, making sure our daughters are fed, bathed, and dressed and aren’t causing too much mischief, e.g., tipping our CD tower over. (Yes, we still have a CD tower.)

Despite all the work, they’re worth it. Of course they are. (Can you imagine this essay if I thought they weren’t?) They’re not only worth it because I love them, but because I’ve managed to learn a lot in the blink of an eye that constitutes the better part of the last decade. Here are the lessons they’ve taught me that I think about in my nonexistent spare time.

1. Patience Really Is a Virtue

Unfortunately, I’m one of the most impatient people on the planet, and that doesn’t bode well when you have children who insist on flipping over on their changing tables when you’re trying to replace their diapers or love to sing high notes at 3 in the morning…every morning. There were times Ihad to walk away and take a breather. This parenting thing isn’t easy, and it’s made me realize I am in definite short supply of the thing you need the most when taking care of children. And I’m still working on it. I know it’ll be a never-ending process until they reach their teens—and then I may as well give up. I don’t know how single parents do it.

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2. Nostalgia Is a Liar

I’m one of the most nostalgic people I’ve ever known, but the truth remains that nostalgia isn’t real. Actually, let me clarify: the feeling of nostalgia is certainly real, but the idea that the past was always great, and the present/future is and will always be rotten is just a lie.

Nothing makes me realize this more than when I’m with my daughters. They’re enjoying life so much right now, smiling at almost anything they see, but that’s mostly because they’re naïve. (Ignorance is bliss, as they say.) They don’t know that gun violence kills thousands of Americans every year, that racism is a rampant problem, and we’re still at war in the Middle East after almost two decades. But years from now as they grow up, they’ll look back at what they can remember and say the 2010s were such grand times, just like I think 1989 is the greatest year in recorded history when it was equally troubled. (Well, the Berlin Wall came down that year, so there was that.)

3. Learning Is Living Done Right

I once had a conversation with my Dad when he asked me all these questions about the internet, Microsoft Word, and other technological marvels of our Brave New World. At that point, he was retired for a few years, but even if he wasn’t, he never really worked with computers anyway—at least not how we use them now. So I was dumbfounded by his questions. “Why should you care about all this new stuff anyway?” I asked, and his answer blindsided me: “Because if I stop learning, I may as well be dead.”

He was right.

Being a semiserious student when I was younger, I have to admit I was more interested in achieving high grades than in the actual learning process. What I learned any given week in school was just a byproduct of trying to make it to the next class and the next grade, which I realize now really shouldn’t have been the way to go about it. It reminds me of the old “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoon when Calvin brags to his teacher that he memorized some useless information he learned in class just long enough to pass a test and now will happily forget it for the rest of his life. I used to have the quadratic formula memorized, but if someone stopped me on the street and put a gun to my head in order to extract that information now, I’d be dead.

But I can see this process, the literal joy of learning, on my daughters’ faces. Luckily, they don’t seem to be so stubbornly lazy as me when it comes to acquiring new information. From working out simple puzzles in their toys to remembering how to spell the word “apple,” they’re literally learning dozens of new things every day, even if I can’t see all of it yet. Of course, one day I will, and it will all be because they wanted to learn in the first place. After all, like my Dad astutely put it, they’re not dead yet.

4. Life Ain’t So Bad

When I was a kid in 1988, I watched Happy Birthday, Garfield, a television special dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the titular fat cat, and a little after the intro to the show, creator/cartoonist Jim Davis explained that if there’s anything to take away from Garfield the comic strip and Garfield the character, it’s this: “Hey, life’s not so bad.”

I was horrified.

Of course, Davis was looking for the opposite reaction, but my mind was moving so quickly that I immediately thought, “Well, why would he need to say that unless life is bad? What are the adults not telling us?!” I grew into that unfortunate mental attitude as I got older, even suffering several bouts of depression.

Still, my daughters remind me of this line every day, and they also taught me that Davis is right. Life really isn’t so bad, at least for most of us. I can’t speak about people suffering in third-world countries, but for the majority of us, it’s not exactly a daily struggle—or at least it doesn’t have to be (and if you’re reading this, it means you have both access to the Internet and the money for a computer and/or smartphone, so your life can’t be that bad either). My daughters see things in the world that I forgot to marvel about, which brings me to my last point.

5. The World Is Magical

It’s easy to forget being amazed at magnets and planes flying overhead but easier to remember when you’ve got a 3- and 6-year-old living with you. After my wife and I put up our Christmas tree a few years ago, I wish I could’ve bottled the look on my younger daughter’s face. Her eyes lit up like, well, that Christmas tree, and she literally opened her mouth and squealed, “Woooah!” as if to say, “Hey, a tree is growing in the middle of our living room! How’d it get here, Daddy?!”

There was a time I was like that, too. I was amazed at flashing Christmas lights hanging across city streets and shiny boxes under the tree. When did I lose that? Not sure, but most us do. I suppose us serious adults are too busy working and paying the bills to take notice, but this Christmas, as I walk home from work and pass The Empire State Building decorated in red and green for the holidays, I’m going to at least try to look up in wonder.

Just because life goes fast doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful.

Michael Perone is an editor based in New York. He has written for The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore City Paper, and Long Island Voice (a spinoff of the Village Voice), as well as Yahoo!, Whatculture!, and other websites that don’t end with an exclamation mark.