My husband has a Happiness Book. I’m not sure which part of this charms me most: the fact that he thought to start such a thing, the fact that he spent some minutes getting out a piece of paper and making a little cover for it, or the image of him searching for little plastic holder thingys at work every time he adds a page. (Picture this guy with big biceps, carefully putting a tiny little piece of paper – maybe something with little blue clouds on it – into a three ring binder, then clipping the rings shut and staring at the drawing.) It all seems rather out of character for him as a man, yet completely in character as a dad.
The Happiness Book started about 8 years ago, when our eldest son was 7. Our son – like all children, I’m sure – would create lots of drawings: fingerprint characters, short stories he wrote, stick figures playing basketball, and lots and lots of dinosaurs. He’d tuck his little drawings into my husband’s drawer at home so my husband would be sure to see them when he left for his sheriff’s job at the courthouse. My husband dutifully brought each piece to work, but eventually the drawings came to cover too much uniform-locker space, and then too much bailiff-desk space. So my husband got a white binder from the supply room, made a simple cover, and started putting all the drawings in plastic pages. The Happiness Book was born.
The simple white binder stands about three inches thick now, stuffed to the brim with drawings, sketches, poems, short stories, Father’s Day cards, limericks, paintings, fingerprint art, crayon masterpieces and more – all done by our kids over the last 8 years. Whenever the kids go to visit Dad in the courthouse, they pull out The Happiness Book. It’s always made them as happy to see their work displayed as it’s made their dad to peek inside when he needs a quick pick-me-up.
My husband said that now, though, it makes him sort of sad. And when he brought it home to show us last weekend, I saw what he meant. I turned the pages slowly, stared at each of the drawings, and felt a little sad myself. I remembered the sound of The Torkelsons theme song when a five-year-old Ricky would draw Hippy the Hippo at the coffee table on a Saturday afternoon. I remembered the way a three-year-old Rene would push her hair back with her fingers when she’d bend over her drawing of princesses and castles. I remembered Nate coloring the legs of the dining table in bright green marker after he finished one of his grassy masterpieces. (That green pen is still on the underside of the dining table! I could only get so much of it wiped off.)
But the kids are getting older now, and they’re listening to iPods, not making fingerprint art at the coffee table. They spend their evenings studying for AP classes and English homework – they don’t have time to draw elaborate scenarios of dinosaurs or knights with the Green Meadow and Rusted Red Crayolas. They are going out with friends, listening to music in their rooms, and playing video games – not spreading their colored pencils across the dining table to select the just-right shade for their brother’s hair.
So right now The Happiness Book is making us a little sad. Maybe with a bit of distance it will bring happiness again. Maybe it only seems sad now because we’re just leaving the stage of last child being little, and we’re just not used to it yet. Maybe once we’re clearly into the “next phase” – with our feet firmly on the ground as a family of teens – it will bring joy again. Until then, The Happiness Book is a mixed bag – we’re thrilled we have it, but we can’t always look at it.
So tell me your experiences with this: Do you have something akin to The Happiness Book? Does it make you a little sad? Does the sadness go away?