What Would Marsha Do?

I’ve had a stressful and unhappy year.

My oldest daughter barely survived seventh grade. There were enough tears to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and there were many nights spent worrying over her. There were also many evenings of stressing over homework and grades and friends and boys and teachers and clothes and gym class.

We sold our house and have been living in a basement apartment. All of our things are in storage, and it feels like we are living in a hotel, with just the bare necessities.

I worked a visiting assistant professor position at a university with colleagues who had rejected me for a full-time position and that required an hour-long commute. I have dealt with difficult students. I have spent many days in my office without anyone acknowledging that I exist. I have been lonely.

I’ve gained 20 pounds.

I still haven’t figured out how to keep my house sparklingly clean all the time.

I lost my patience with my seven-year old countless times. I felt guilty about not volunteering in her elementary school classroom and about not joining the PTA.

I missed my husband while he worked 80 plus hours during tax season.

I hurt my neck and shoulder and have been going to physical therapy. I had to get a colonoscopy (yuck!), and I’ve probably spent more than I should have this year on this and that.

Yet, I’m happy.

It occurred to me just the other day that I’m happy, and that happiness isn’t a place to be reached that is always elusive, but that instead it is a journey.

For most of my 37 years, I’ve been striving for happiness. I often tell myself, “I just want to be happy.” And then it hit me: just be happy. Stop hoping that you’ll be happy at some future date, or wondering when the happiness fairies will appear and declare that you can be happy. Just enjoy the journey. Happiness comes in moments, and I’ve had plenty of those this year as well.

My oldest daughter played her violin beautifully at her orchestra concerts this year. She also had a great party where she invited many of the new friends she has made at junior high this year. They giggled and played and it warmed my heart. She has also decided to start piano lessons again (something I’ve wanted her to do) and she asked to do this all on her own.

My youngest daughter has excelled at school, despite her struggles with ADHD. She was given a citizenship award for being such a great student and she has perfect grades. She’s funny and spunky and makes me laugh as often as she makes me cry. She has made many new friends, and as a result, so have I.

My husband’s work is doing well, which is why he has worked so many hours, and whenever he is home, he does dishes, cooks dinner with me, vacuums, or does whatever I ask him to do without blinking or complaining. He is a gentle, patient man whom I love very much.

I’ve made some good money this year at my temporary position, and as a consequence, we are building a new house. That’s why we are living in cramped quarters right now. And in just two short weeks, we should be moving in. We have already met people in our new neighborhood and they are lovely and supportive.

I’ve made friends and connections at my temporary university position. I’ve also landed a new tenure-track position at a university that is a mere 20-minute commute. I will start in the fall, and this will allow me to be closer to my children during the day in case of emergencies or doctor’s appointments.

Those cramped quarters we’ve been living in? Well, it is a basement apartment in my in-laws’ house. And what a delight it has been to live with them. The girls have gotten to know their grandparents better, and in some of my oldest daughter’s most trying junior high moments, Grandma was there to wipe the tears and listen to her woes.

I’ve found a new role model in my mother-in-law Marsha. I’ve struggled for most of my adult life with being motherless, and now I have a mother I feel close to. She’s right up the stairs, and if I need something, she jumps up to help. She loves to help, and I’ve never had that in my life. I’ve never had a mother figure who is so eager to help and so loving in doing so. I always felt guilty about asking for help. I have always felt that I was burdening others to ask for help. But she has taught me that it is okay to ask. That we should be asking. Right now, she’s sanding and repainting our dining chairs for when we move into our new house. She loves to be busy. She has sewn ripped clothing, helped me to organize our junk, shuttled the kids to and from school on days when I had to leave early for teaching, helped with laundry, fed us on occasion, cleaned my stove, talked over problems, and hugged me when I needed it. She also helped us adopt a lovely orange cat from the shelter, and he is the sweetest cat. We love him.

Here she is, surrounded by family at our recent family camp reunion. She’s the one with white hair who is winning at Poker.


And here she is surrounded by her large family. A few of us are missing, but we are all together because of her. She’s the glue. 

My mother-in-law’s energy and love is infectious, and as a result, I have a new motto: What Would Marsha Do? When I’m feeling down and unmotivated, I remember how caring and competent she is. I think, “Well, Marsha would just jump up and do this.” So I do, too. She has helped me to deal with some of my depression, and when I feel like doing that one task is too much, I remember how easy she makes it seem and how much vigor she brings to accomplishing even the mundane things in life, and I know that I can do it too. I will miss living with her and being around her each day.

(And these two paragraphs about her only scratch the surface. She does so much for so many. I have seen her take in extended family who are struggling emotionally or financially. I’ve seen her knit hats for humanitarian efforts. I see her volunteer in her church and community constantly. There isn’t a blog post long enough to extoll her virtues.)

In my search for “happiness,” I’ve also given myself a break. I used to think that I had to do everything perfectly, and if I didn’t, I failed and that would lead to a spiral of doing nothing or giving up on certain tasks. Now, I take things one day at a time.

Each day can be happy, even when it isn’t, because happiness isn’t a goal for the future. It is in the fleeting moments of my life, and I can enjoy those moments as they come and forgive myself when things go wrong.

I’m happy. I hope you are too.