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How To Raise a Happy Child on $0 a Day

I read a story about a dad prepping his son for the NFL by stretching his hamstrings as an infant, before he could walk. Other parents drill their kids on Chinese letters and classical art, publicly announcing their goals with Harvard onesies. I have a friend who is worried her 6 month old won’t make it into gifted. He can be tested, at the earliest18 months from now.

Gifted smifted. I was in gifted and so were many of my friends and acquaintances. As an indicator of success, it’s highly overrated.

Not that I don’t have goals for my child. I do.

I’m raising my daughter to be happy. I think more than anything, being happy is the pinnacle of success. Yes, your child will be ecstatic if he makes the NFL, but what happens afterward? Will he still be after that hip replacement surgery at 40, assuming all those years of hard work and sacrifice really pay off? Your child gets a sitcom or a feature film. Let’s ask Lindsay Lohan about that.

Happy is forever.

At 20, 30, 40, 50, I want Penelope to be happy. If a boy breaks her heart I want her to see something in it to be happy about. I want her to have the ability to find the silver linings and the pot of gold. Happy means if you’re a billionaire or a social worker, you’re good with it., you’re satisfied, you’re rich. Whether you’re draped in the latest Alexander McQueen couture fresh off the runway or straight from Target, you’re happy. You’re not “keeping up” with the Joneses, but they sure are spending a lot of money on therapy to keep up with you. A bad hair day is not a national tragedy.

How am I putting her on the path to Happy? I’m trying to help her see the good and funny in everything. Second hand clothes are great, mommy won’t get upset when you paint with that mud. The public pool is better, you can meet a lot of new people. If you have the best cell phone you’ll only cry harder if it gets lost. We went to a free show at the library this weekend, Puss in Boots. Broadway's Lion King wouldn't have made her more delighted than this cat putting on shoes in a public auditorium. Have a great car you’ll always worry who’s parking next to you. See you spill chocolate milk all over mommy's back seat. See mommy not care (too much). I'd like her to be selective, to take the important things seriously, things you can't fix with hats and mousse.

I'm trying to teach her to look at things differently, find the good in the way things are, not the way they “ought” to be. We don’t have a daddy in our family but, Penelope, you do have a grammy, two cats, three close cousins, two close aunts, two close uncles, and a mommy who puts you first. Each family is different, it’s all good. If you don’t make the traditional gifted program, I’ll help you find your own gifts. Art? Music? Rock climbing? Politics? (I’ve seen more people get further by being gifted with politics than any other “intelligence”.) She's well on her way to class clown.

In the future, I can picture it. Friends, acquaintances, random nosy strangers with shopping cats filled with odd joints of meat and organic frozen vegetables, my knitting circle and reading group, when we reach that certain age, the question always makes it’s rounds: What does your child do? I’ll hear doctors, lawyers. Astronauts, land developers, President of the United States.

What does my child do? Something that makes her happy.

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