I ask No. 4 what he thinks ‘happiness’ is, as he’s suggested the word as a title for this new post.
“Well, Happiness is Orange.”
A pause from us both, but I don’t stop slicing cucumber for his lunchtime sandwich. I need soft questions, nothing too direct. Maybe just a little eye contact. Best to unwrap the surprise of his answer gently.
Slowly, No. 4 warms to his theme: when he thinks of happiness, he sees its letters in orange. Always in orange.
I probe further; No. 4’s face lights up as he lists words and their colours, and brighten even more when he senses my delight.
Is this a sort of Synesthesia – the mind-blowing criss-crossing of senses that comes in countless permutations and is estimated to be experienced by up to 5% of the population? Possibly.
No. 4 is consistent in his shading of numbers; his own name is in black, as is mine. But Mum is pinky-purple. Delicious is never anything but black, apart from the i glowing red and the o shining green (like the colours of peppers). He tells me that delicious is a ‘link’ word, but that some are random. Like travel (beige). And sausage (blue).
The early morning kitchen is splashed awake with words and letters, I forget the cucumber, and No. 4 seems as happy as me with my new discovery about him.
School time closes our colourful chat, but throughout the day I play with No. 4’s ‘happiness’ idea.
Travel makes me happy, I think. Even though the freshness of pastures new can occasionally transform into a spiralling disaster zone of imperfect family travel …
As happened in Amsterdam – mostly a heady mix of beautiful canals mirrored with autumn leaves, swiping swarms of bikes, Vincent Van Gogh’s glorious artwork, and the bittersweet comfort of my youngest child in the Anne Frank Museum.
Oh, but we had the direst of nights. Sharing a hostel dorm with four kids who turned on each other with an ugly-faced passion for clenched-fist hours filled me with a helplessness I didn’t know what to do with. Dark, depressing nights lit only by the low glimmer of the communal hallway light – I wanted to walk out of our room, slink beneath the glowering light and disappear into the anonymity of the city. Worst of all were the lingering guilt-ridden thoughts that it must be all my fault.
Mornings have a wonderful and stunning ability to renew, and chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) at breakfast (with a decent double-shot of coffee for me) brought back all the smiles …
… although I do remember one particular day when the fog of exhaustion refused to lift. It was a simmering fury-filled fest of sporadic, sharp fights. The Dutch waterways totally lost their shine, and pesky cyclists veered more viciously.
Despite the nightmares, our mutual memory of Amsterdam is that it was brilliant – there were so many snatches of intense orange happiness.
The school day is over, and I take the chance to ask each of my kids in turn what makes them happy.
No. 2 says “Family, travel and relaxing at home.” He pauses to reconsider, “Definitely travelling, but I don’t like being shoved up against the side of a wet tent when I’m trying to sleep.” The nocturnal hell of Amsterdam is thankfully lodged somewhere far, far away.
No. 3’s response fits my own, “piscinas naturales, food markets and travel“. Does she seek to please, or is she genuinely a girl after my own heart? Either way, she’s glad that her words have made me smile.
When I ask No. 1 what makes him happy, he lances me with a withering grin, “Nothing.” Except for the unadulterated joy of uttering the exact opposite of what he knows he’s supposed to say. Laced with a healthy dose of teenage attitude.
Clearly, happiness can be complicated.
No. 4’s turn. What makes him happy?
“You thinking I’m special because I have colourful words.”
I’m seeing orange.
“I don’t like it when you and Dad argue though.”
Ouch. There’s that bittersweet taste again.
No. 4 seems to have come up with the Happiness title as his school is focusing on Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week 2017. Sometimes (and it’s more common than you might think) the balance goes and happiness isn’t easy or complicated; it’s scarcely there at all.