It was a call to my mother, from college, to let her know I was engaged to be married. I was nervous as she’d really only met my fiancé a couple times, and even though mother loved her, she didn’t know her that well. I didn’t know what to expect, so I braced for the worst and hoped for the best. That was my first mistake. My mother has never been judgmental. It’s one of the things I learned just from being raised by her, so I had no need to be worked up over this phone call. Rather than fearing what she might think of me, I should have remembered she’d simply be happy.
Mom was never much of one to lecture. She would give advice when the need for it was there, but she was more of a “teach by doing” kind of person, for which I am eternally thankful. Stereotyped sit-coms on TV often portray mothers as meddlesome, judgmental, and long-winded. It makes for some good laughs but doesn’t fit my own experience at all.
Mom had one bit of advice when I phoned her with engagement news, and even though I’ve sometimes struggled to follow those few words, I’ve never forgotten them.
My mother said, “I wish I’d understood this twenty years ago, Darren. Life would’ve been much happier and simpler. The fact is, you can’t make her happy, and she can’t make you happy. You have to choose to be happy in order to be happy.”
That was it. My mother didn’t say a syllable about yard work. Nothing said about leaving underwear hanging on door knobs. No Top 100 List of Things Husbands Do That Drive Their Wives up a Wall. Her words had the ring of truth to them, which they always do, and I couldn’t think how to respond. I made sure to tell my then future wife, and she seemed to feel the weight of this advice as well.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It really is simple, but like all life truths, it’s also difficult.
All too often we are faced with frustrations spawned from living with another person. My mother knew there’s no way around it. Like, taking a shower and someone uses water elsewhere in the house, and you end up dancing under cold water like a frog wriggling on its back. Or there’s no salt in the mashed potatoes. Or, when my wife has to use the bathroom at three in the morning and sits in the toilet because her insensitive husband left the seat up again and why can’t he just lower the dam thing ’cause it’s not brain surgery, after fricken all, is it!
So how do I follow Mom’s advice? She wasn’t counseling that I should spend fifteen minutes, four times a day, reciting a mantra of “I choose to be happy, I choose to be happy.” My interpretation is, when your spouse is frustrating you, and you feel irritation and anger building up, force yourself to stop thinking about what’s bad, and decide to find what’s good, or maybe what’s humorous, instead.
For instance, if I’m showering and feel suddenly motivated by freezing water to imitate frightened grasshoppers, I can choose to curse or, I can remember it and use the moves when my wife and I go dancing. I could do a James Brown parody, “Ow! I feel good…I knew that I wouldn’t!” I could also remember that some studies show using cold water briefly in each shower can improve cardio-vascular health. Dancing is optional.
Mother really does know best. Time and again her wisdom has proven invaluable. That’s what mothers do, and my mother is the very best, bar none. So if you see me dancing with my wife, and you ask where I learned such groovy moves, I’ll say my mother taught me.