Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Kenny Shopsin and Happiness
Kenny Shopsin, the strange and brilliant chef, not known for his social graces, gave me one of the most helpful ideas for parenting. He said that to find work that has meaning for you is the best example you can set, and that the best thing you can do for your kids is be happy yourself.
I held Colby, then a tiny newborn, in my lap and listened as he expounded, sitting across the table from us, exhausted from a day of cooking and yelling at his four kids, all at the time working to some degree in the restaurant. When Kenny does anything but rant and curse, you listen. He has an exceedingly rough personae, but under that is a compassion and an intelligence far stronger than his roaring expletives.
Contemplating his words now, from way inside the path of parenting and family life, they look different than when I first heard them. When I first heard, "Be happy yourself," it sounded obvious and easy, as easy as happiness ever is. Now, there is a larger family, work, and the thousand tiny shirts and shorts and socks that need folding. How to find happiness and do good work when you feel life is pulling you in a thousand directions, all of them important?
By making choices, and, the ever famous key to marital bliss, compromise. Make the beds but let the floors go. Write for an hour in the morning and accept the longing for a day. Make a dinner reservation.
What Kenny did not say was how in family life the happiness of the couple, individually and together becomes so linked.
Children are an astonishing amount of work. Their demands are tireless, their needs absolute. Meanwhile the rest of life clamors for attention. And, then there is each other. For us, that is the easiest one to lose track of. We operate for long periods under the illusion that we, the couple, can wait. That we come after kids, dishes, tractors, work.
We must take care of ourselves and our love the way we care for all the other aspects of a full life. To not let the inertia of distance between us become a habit, we need a moment together, to just gaze, and be.
We made plans for dinner out together and as I got ready I thought about all the small fissures between us, major and minor emotional infractions, moments of bad communication. I felt how that was not what I wanted dinner to be about, I did not want to talk, work, process. I wanted to be together, in the moment.
At dinner we laughed, we talked with our neighboring table, we caught up on the funny moments, profound work conversations, all the persistent beauty that occurred in the week. We invested in our happiness, the cornerstone of a loving, functional life, together. Thanks Kenny.
More Kenny wisdom, culinary and philosophical, can be found in his excellent cook book, pictured here. The essay on eggs is a revelation.