I like to provide magical moments for my children: small moments, on ordinary days, where I break my own rules, say “yes” when they are expecting a “no,” or do something out of my norm. These bits of variety break life’s monotony and help bring us an extra dose of joy. At least, that is the goal.
We were running errands one afternoon and everyone was hungry. I pulled over to a popular Mexican restaurant and decided to treat them to an early dinner. We were instantly elated. Local Mexican restaurants tend to be “proud” of their food and I knew we’d be paying top dollar. The kids placed their orders and I could tell they were concerned about the prices. I told them not to worry. This was a “treat” and we should enjoy every moment of it without hesitation.
I’m a bit of a “foodie” and when my mushroom dish was delivered, I felt deflated. It looked as though they had poured a can of sliced mushrooms on the plate, added two spoonfuls of minced garlic from a jar and poured oil over the top. There was no way I would be eating this food. Cue up disappointment. My youngest daughter was two bites into her meal and decided she was no longer hungry. How could that be? Just moments before she was “starving.” Cue up frustration. My son gazed out the window as he, too, was suddenly uninterested in his meal and pointed out several bullet holes in the glass. Which, naturally, inspired a conversation about drive-by shootings. Cue up guilt over my choice of restaurants. My oldest daughter began pushing her food around her plate, inspecting it closely. Her sister realized what was going on and said, “Ew!” as my oldest pulled a long strand of hair from the middle of her burrito. “It’s okay, I’ll just eat from the other end. It’s not a big deal,” she said. “No. You won’t!” I said.
I called the waiter over so I could point out the hair. He suggested the hair was my daughter’s because no one in the kitchen had long hair. He offered to take 50 percent off of her burrito to apologize. I asked for our check; we were ready to leave. While he drew up the check, my emotional shame storm continued. I shared my frustration with the kids: “Do you realize how many hours of work I’m throwing away right now for a meal no one ate? What a waste of time and money.” By the time I paid the bill and we walked out, I was on the verge of tears.
This “magical moment” had not gone according to plan, ended up being a waste of hard earned money, and now everyone was upset: the opposite of what I had hoped to accomplish. Tearing up, I said, “This was supposed to be a treat!” My oldest said, “Oh, it was a “‘treat.’” We broke into laughter. One wise remark led to another and within minutes we were laughing so hard, we had tears in our eyes and I struggled to catch my breath. The overpriced, failed feast fiasco turned out to be a magical moment after all.
Not long after, the girls and I found ourselves in an awkward situation at an event with countless “surprises.” I looked at their faces and could see they were experiencing the same thoughts and feelings I was. We maintained eye contact until we all started to smile. There was instant comfort in our connection. I broke the silence and said out loud, “What a ‘treat’ this is.” We couldn’t help but laugh.
During Christmas Eve service at our church, our pastor recited a quote which I wrote down in my notes: “One test of authentic joy is it’s compatibility with pain.” He talked to us about finding joy in life no matter what the circumstances because if we wait for conditions to be perfect, we are simply waiting to live. As I processed this, my oldest pointed to my notes and leaned over to say, “This reminds me of the Mexican restaurant.” I couldn’t help but smile. We are indeed learning the art of finding joy in all circumstances and living life fully, versus waiting to live. I don’t know what life will bring us next, but I know that on any given day, we have enough magical moments to draw on to help us find a spot of joy in any of them.