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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

March 3 - March 16, 2013

You happy?

Parents of babies can’t wait for the day when their youngest ones will start to talk, and the glory in figuring what those first strung-together sounds are meant to express. Talking is one of the benchmarks of a young child’s life; check any parenting book or website, and there will be lists of how many words children should know by what age.

Maybe it’s just me, but with all three of my kids, I’ve moved awfully quickly from hanging on their every utterance to sometimes wishing they could just, maybe, be a little quiet sometimes. Or maybe I just have kids who like to talk.

And when they talk, they don’t just offer commentary that you can give half-attention, with an occasional nod or “uh-huh.” No, they ask questions, and they expect answers. And if the answers don’t come, they ask at higher volume. (I’m speaking of my children in their toddler years here.)

Their questions, though, offer insight into what they are thinking about. Caroline asked about the things she saw in the world around her: why they are there, and how they got to be the way they are. Frank wanted to know more about what things were, and how they were connected to one another, especially geographically. By the time he was 5, if someone asked how to get to the airport on the el, he’d ask which airport — and then give a perfectly intelligible and correct answer.

Teresa wants to know how the people around her are feeling about what goes on around them.

Her signature question to me? “You happy, Mama?”

The question comes just after I’ve scolded her sometimes, as she tries to figure out if I am still angry about her throwing her plate on the floor, or writing on the walls. Or it comes when we are cuddling in the rocking chair, reading stories before bed. Or sometimes when we are in the car, I hear the question from behind my right shoulder.

The thing is, just hearing the question in that little 3-year-old voice pretty much always makes me happy. Even if I was still annoyed about having to clean spaghetti off the floor again.

So I answer, “Yes, I’m happy. Are you happy?”

Nearly every time, she answers, “I happy,” and we share a smile and the day goes on, a little brighter than it was before.

Taking the time to think about whether I’m happy reminds me of how much I have to be happy about, starting with the love of God and the love my family gives me, and the love I give them. If God is with us then who can be against us, St. Paul asks. I ask, with everything God gave us, then how can we be unhappy?

In a story on Page 15 in this issue, Father Robert Barron said he is hoping for a new pope who will be “a positive, smart, articulate, smiling face who can announce that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. A joyful, hopeful, holy person.”

Because if you really believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead to save you, how can you not be happy?

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at mmartin@archchicago.org.