Listen

I worry about my oldest boy, but only because I see myself in him. He’s driven, but fights frustration. He’s joyful, but an easy mark for emotion. He also falls a lot. Genes are tough competitors.

Sugar is a luxury for him like good scotch is for his father. He gets it on special occasions, and I know what I’m getting myself into when I let him go nose deep in a pile of uncut pure cane marching powder. He babbles, bounces from ceilings, and makes as little sense as he can manage. It’s like being reasonable would offend some sugar island god that gives cane to six-year-olds. You saw what happened when the Brady kids pissed of the Hawaiian idol, right?

Yesterday was a holiday in our home. Though we maintain a fairly balanced family life–education, arts, physical fitness, etc–we set aside time for important sporting events (read: the whole of the NFL season). Super Bowl Sunday is Independence Day meets Mardi Gras, with sugar added.

We pre-gamed at the circus. I typically leave all judgment at the door when I enter the concourse of a major arena, and circus days are no exception. The boy ate a sno-cone, a hot dog, and a bag of cotton candy. Later that night, he had Ben & Jerry’s (Cherry Garcia), popcorn, pierogies, cheese soup, and whatever sugar he could snort out of the couch cushions. By the end of the night, he was shivering under two blankets and mumbling about Megatron.

The problem is likely compounded by the fact that most days out of the year the kid gets nearly no sugar. Processed foods are few in our home. The kid doesn’t want for treats, but when he gets them, he knows it is a special occasion. So, unless you’ve experienced a full-blown, nose-breaking fall off the sugar wagon with a six-year-old, it’s hard to imagine the kind of leash it takes maintain any control. Think “rubber room with a picture of a molar-cavity on the wall.”

The kid speaks in tongues when he’s hopped up. I’ve learned to tune most of it out, because it usually sounds a lot like, “John and I were talking about bugs and he told me that I had a bug in my ear but I don’t have a bug in my ear but if I did have a bug in my ear John couldn’t see it and did you know Hawaii is actually a volcano and earthquakes can cause volcanoes and tsunamis are most what’s-the-word prevalent in Hawaii but I didn’t have a bug in my ear and then John said he was just joking and you know why the pencil crossed the road to get to Pencil-Vania get it?”

It was during yesterday’s sugar bender that the kid had one of his spells. We were getting out of the car and he was rambling when I heard him say something apropos of nothing. I had him repeat it, because it might have been the most beautiful thing he’d ever said.

“You just can’t beat happy,” he said. And he meant it.

And there it was. Wisdom from the mouth of a kid so far down the road to a diabetic coma that I couldn’t even be sure he’d remember saying it later.

You just can’t beat happy.

I’ve been thinking about it for the past 24 hours. I keep believing that I’ll eventually come around and realize that it’s just me being a sap, a parent who thinks everything his kid does is amazing, a parent who ignores the fact the kid just doesn’t understand that flushing the toilet is part of going to the bathroom. Every time I go back to it, however, it holds up.

I do not, by anyone’s estimation–least of all my own–have anything figured out. Most of the time I feel so confused and stupid that I can’t even bear to have a reasonable conversation with an adult. I do not pretend my boy has it all figured out. There is something in him, however, that carries a great truth that we all must forget about at some point in our lives. Maybe it’s innocence. Maybe it’s freedom. Whatever it is, it allows him to see the truth.

No mater the pursuit, no matter the prize, no matter the bloody competition, no matter the end game, no matter the laurels and adulation, no matter the celebrity, no matter who ends up on top, there is no beating happiness. Be it sport, be it work, be it life, if the victor still wants for happiness in the end, he hasn’t won. It’s he who knows joy and lives it everyday–no matter the consequences–who will die the winner.

William Pearlman, I think, had it figured out. In his 70s, he was still living without care or want for money beyond his meager needs. He once sailed the Atlantic on a raft made of nothing but junk. Shortly before his death, he’d once again set out on a 100-foot raft he described as “an imperial destroyer armed with beauty and circus that will wage war on the monotony of life.”

I can think of no more beautiful mission, and I think my beautiful son may understand this at age six. It is my job–my only important job–to help him remember his creed until he has built his own imperial destroyer and taken up arms against’s life’s ridiculous monotony, manufactured trials, and spineless sadness.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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8 Responses

  1. Drizztdj says:

    When my daughter got home from the SB party last night she saw me huddled behind the laptop working. Walked in an handed me three unwrapped Happy Meal toys and a 1/2 of a chocolate milk jug.

    Telling me “I needed to have fun too”, gave me a kiss and walked away.

    Screw self-help books. Kids have all the answers we’ll ever need.

  2. Absinthe says:

    Instead of watching the Super Bowl I took my son to the park. Brought along a small playground ball. He invented a game called Boomball. Best Super Bowl Sunday ever.

  3. Polcyn says:

    My kids say more profound things than any adult I know, including the one inside my head. But your boy may have inadvertently discovered the holy grail of profundity.

    You just can’t beat happy.

    F***. I shoulda thought of that one.

  4. Absinthe says:

    (This, by the way, is why every time I see a parent being impatient and/or cruel with a child, I get the urge to break out the re-education equipment. How about we all agree not to beat the wisdom out of our kids, eh?)

  5. Tripp says:

    It’s a nice story. Unfortunately, its just not true that sugar really makes any difference to how your kid behaves. It’s all in your(and maybe his) head Brad!!! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_common_misconceptions#Nutrition.2C_food.2C_and_drink

  6. ld says:

    I think the saddest part of growing up is the loss of the innocence and presence of mind. Children are so naturally intutive; yet as we age, we seem to to let society stifle it. He’s lucky you have written this into your blog, maybe with any luck, that part of him will stay with his as he matures. Show this to him again when he’s an angsty teenager.

  7. Poker Shrink says:

    So I am going to surmise that Mr. & Mrs. Otis do not buy into the scientific data that claims to prove there is really no physiological reaction called “a sugar high.”

  1. February 9, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brad Willis, Kara Scott. Kara Scott said: I love this. RT @_otis_ @KaraOTR Happiness is Wheaton's Law reward, and the dicks won't find it. Summed it up here: http://bit.ly/hf1Nj2 […]

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