Something I read: Catastrophic Happiness


Or, rather, something I can’t wait to read.

Jenny shared Catherine Newman’s new book, Catastrophic Happiness: Finding Joy in Childhood’s Messy Years, and one quote she included has been echoing in my mind ever since:

I live in anticipation of my own broken heart.

This parenting gig, where we are at once shepherd for and witness of these quickly-growing, dynamic little people is filled with heartwarming and heartbreaking anticipation of loss. I remember watching Hudson’s face once as he tried to hold onto the memory of himself without a baby sister. It was like I could see him working to fix it, the way one struggles to remember a dream. At the time the difference was very vivid for me; now it’s slippery to my mind’s grasp as well.

That bittersweet joy that comes filled with a sense of anticipation is the stuff of so many conversations I’ve had with other parents. I think it’s the thing that lies at the root of so much guilt (often called “mom-guilt,” though it transcends the role): Why don’t I try to spend every waking moment enjoying something so fleeting? Of course childhood is, and it isn’t.

“The longest shortest years,” they say.

Having not yet read the book, I go again to one more quote from it that Jenny shared:

I had not pictured being an adult as the crazy derangement of joy and sadness that it’s turning out to be. The children, for example, are lost to us over and over again, their baby selves smiling at us from photo albums like melancholy little ghosts of parenthood past. Where are those babies? They are here and not here. I want to remember the feel of a warm little hand in mine, or the damp, silky weight of a naked kid in my arms straight from the bath. When I prop Birdy on my hip, she still slings a little arm around my shoulder, jaunty as a boyfriend — but she’s so heavy. The kids grow and grow, they grow right out the door! Like characters in a Dr. Seuss book about people you love and love and then they move out and leave you and go to college like jerks, marry other people, and refuse to live at home with you who love them so much, who loved them first. (Assuming you can even keep them alive that long.) Loss is ahead of us, behind us, woven into the very fabric of our happiness. I don’t wish nothing would change as much as I wish for the absence of more loss.

Have you read Newman’s first book, Waiting for Birdy? I can’t wait to read this one.

P.S. When parenting begins. And other things I read.

[Photo Catastrophic Happiness/Little, Brown and Company]

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