78: Pockets of Happiness

78: Pockets of Happiness

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Pockets of Happiness

Ice cream is happiness condensed.

~Jessi Lane Adams

As parents we spend a good part of our time making preparations for our children. From lunches and sleepovers, to soccer games and Halloween costumes. Then SATs and junior proms, to road tests and senior proms.

My most recent preparation was for my older daughter’s freshman year of college. As I found myself cramming a semester’s worth of necessities into plastic bins and cardboard boxes, I thought about the emotional disconnect I was beginning to feel as I arranged to ship my firstborn off.

Here I was, preparing her to leave the security of home, but how was I preparing to see her go? The answer, as it turned out, was not found in a dusty old parental handbook, it was one I would have to discover on my own.

During the three-and-one-half-hour drive west on Route 80 toward Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, my mind stayed busy taking inventory of my emotions. The repetitive interstate mile markers and merging traffic rekindled a very familiar feel, and might just as well have been a summer drive to Disney. But now the green and yellow Playskool talking piano was replaced by the tapping keys of a laptop, and the sing-along Mickey radio is an iPod crammed with a wide selection of songs: music to her, audio graffiti to me. I would occasionally glance at my daughter as she bobbed her head to the music being delivered through thin white wires. There was a time not so long ago, I thought, when she was happy just listening to me.

Slightly more than halfway through our journey, somewhere between the Delaware Water Gap tollbooths that separate New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I pulled into a Luvs gas station, to do what all weary travelers do. Fill up and rest.

There I was, leaning against a packed car, squeezing the gas pump handle, watching the dollars fly by, and thinking about college tuition. I walked into the convenience store and purchased a bottle of water. I unscrewed the cap and began to sip as I walked out the double glass doors.

Lost in thought, I vaguely felt the figure of a young man brush past me. Normally he would have gone completely unnoticed had it not been for the package he had cradled in his right arm. There draped over his shoulder, was a little girl perhaps five or six, in a white summer dress with red trim, softly sobbing and whimpering just enough for sensitive ears to hear. The kind of cry a little one utters when she’s overtired, or when she’s fallen on her hands, and receives the slightest of scrapes and pebble marks from an unforgiving sidewalk.

I watched them through the glass doors, never really seeing the young father’s face. He sat his little girl on the counter while she attempted to catch her breath through quivering lips. And then with what almost appeared to be a sleight of hand, he quickly produced an ice cream pop and like a skilled magician with a pass of a wand, suddenly, tears were dried, a frown was a smile, and curls were bouncing with joy.

The young father then placed his hands under his daughter’s arms and lifted her up off the counter and onto the floor. She clutched her father with one hand and with the other, gripped the ice cream as her tiny bites splintered the hard chocolate coating. I watched her small sneakers with Velcro straps skip happily back through the doors.

It was during that interlude that I realized what had been relentlessly gnawing at me. I was simply losing control. Not the control of curfews, or decisions, or the company she kept, but mostly, her happiness.

I thought back to when she was young and under my protective wings, her happiness my responsibility. A few extra hours granted at the beach, with a pail and shovel. A piggyback ride, a trip to the schoolyard playground, a Beanie Baby unexpectedly dropped in her hand, or ice cream to make everything all better.

Now she was going to have to find it on her own. And to find it, she was going to have to sift through the human wreckage of heartaches, letdowns and disappointments; the very thing I tried to shield her from when she was young. There will be break-ups with boyfriends along the way, and promising doors of opportunity will be slammed in her face.

My magic wand was gone.

While driving the final remaining miles, I decided that when it was time to say goodbye, I would perform one last fatherly task. I had planned to remind her of the crime of wasted potential. About overcoming her fears, and safeguarding against predatory frat boys. About how proud a blue-collar father with nothing more than an equivalency diploma tacked up on the wall is seeing his older daughter entering a university like Bucknell. About how happiness comes in pockets, and how she should keep hers full.

I had my little speech all meticulously rehearsed and fine tuned, and attempted to deliver it to her during a final farewell embrace in front of the dorm.

But as I gave her a hug and began to whisper those tidbits of parental wisdom in her ear, the only words I was able to squeeze past the lump in my throat was a sad, little “I love you.” And for that, I received a pat on my back and her assurance that everything would be fine.

“It’s college Dad, not rehab,” she said, sounding confident and suddenly full of knowledge. And at that moment, like the many that life grants us, I knew it was time to go. I left her in a group of other nervously excited freshmen, and prepared myself for a very quiet and very long ride home.

A few weeks later, during one of the summer’s last remaining nights, while I began to adjust to a slightly quieter house, I opened the front door to put out the recyclables.

“Hey Dad,” my remaining daughter said, catching me halfway out the door. “How about some Carvel?”

“Not tonight, honey, I’m beat,” I wearily replied, releasing the screen door. “I’m putting out the trash, locking the cars and then I just want to relax.”

But before the screen door could make its final stutter step closed, I turned back and yelled past the living room, “What flavor?”

And there it was, etched on her face, that unmistakable look called happiness.

~Patrick Sepe

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