It’s the kind of question that’s easy to answer when you’re two-and-a-half sheets to the wind, sitting around a fire pit at The Carolina Inn on a 70-degree October night with your daughter, her four college roommates and parental representatives from each of the five families. It’s not a tough question to answer when you’ve spent the weekend with these five girls who, now in their fourth year out of school, may prefer to be called young women, but somehow you just can’t believe they, or you, are that old. And when you look around at the future in their faces and know you’re always going to be a part of each and every one of their lives, the question kind of answers itself.
But, Tom asked it anyway because, in the absence of the ultimate thought-provoking question-asker, Dan, he was the most likely to get a good discussion going.
While celebrating at the iconic Sutton’s Drug Store on the night of our daughters’ graduations back in 2014, we vowed that we parents would also keep our friendship going, committing to a yearly reunion in Chapel Hill. I was the first to do the pinky swear, but secretly questioned the likelihood of fifteen of us coming from far-flung places like New Jersey, Cleveland, Denver, DC, Knoxville, Chicago, Asheville, Columbus, Atlanta or New Orleans for the sole purpose of trying to keep a parent-child college fromance alive. I’ve made a lot of empty promises over a bottle of bourbon in my life and though this one sounded good, I highly doubted it would come to pass.
But it did. A lot of factors motivated us back to the University of North Carolina, not least of which were Sandra and Stephen. Tried and true Tar Heels, Sandra and Stephen had returned to Chapel Hill in their retirement and serendipitously cemented our group even before the rest of us had met. Lauren and her parents made small talk in the airport with a nice couple who were returning home after visiting their son in Denver. It was one of those “You’re going to love UNC!” “Here, take our number!” conversations that you can either follow up with or forget. Sandra and Stephen ended up serving as surrogate grandparents for the girls and innkeepers for the parents, housing ten or more of us on any given weekend. They became the heart and soul of our Chapel Hill family.
This was our fourth formal fall reunion. Some years we hang out with lots of the girls’ friends who have since become our friends because really, who wouldn’t want to be friends with us? Some years some parent is playing golf in Naples or covering the Bridgegate trial or hosting a fundraiser or forgot to add the weekend to the Travel Budget. But, regardless of who comes, every year we have a private party at Sutton’s, stroll the brick-pathed campus, savor a BLT from Merritt’s and revel in the realization that there’s really something quite special about what we do.
“So, what makes you happy?” Tom asked as we sat around the fire pit at The Carolina Inn on Saturday night.
Lauren is happy when she’s around her family, which is not surprising considering how happy Joe and Carla are to be around her. She is happy that she found a rewarding career and a job that makes a difference. She’s happy being with her friends. And the King of England.
What makes Molly happy are meaningful relationships. Good conversation. And sunshine.
Jenny, is happy with her wine. She finds joy in doing a job that’s important. A job that will become infinitely more important as she begins delivering babies next year. And true happiness would surely stem from delivering the babies of her very best friends.
Julianne is happy when she’s good with herself. When she can do what she does just because it’s who she is. And, it makes her happy when the people she loves are down with that. Music and friends are what make her heart sing.
Julie’s happiness comes when she’s doing something helpful. It doesn’t have to be world-changing. It can just be a simple act of kindness. Like holding the door for someone. Or loving her husband. Her family. And her friends.
Wendy, who was not one of the five roommates but was with us for the evening and the source of my yet-to-be proclaimed proclamation finds herself happy when she meets people where they are. Not where the world wants them to be.
Joe is happy. Unassumingly happy. He doesn’t need a lot. He’s got his wife, Carla. He’s got his three kids. He’s got his grandchild. He’s just happy being happy.
Carla is happy with Joe. Really happy. She’s happy with her kids. She’s happy when she travels. So happy, in fact, that she actually has something called a yearly Travel Budget.
Sally gets her happiness from running. Working out. Endorphins. From coffee and wine. First the wine. Then the coffee. Then her friends and family.
Tom, not surprisingly, is happiest when he’s brewing up his next adventure. He loves to think ahead to a fun future. To the next Duke ticket conspiracy, the next Clef Hangers’ performance, the next reunion. And when pressed, admits that he is happy spending time with his daughter.
Jackie is also happy when she’s with Julianne. And presumably when she’s with her husband, Tom. She is happy on a front porch. And at a fire pit. With friends. And a glass of wine.
Ruth is happy with good food, good friends and good wine. She is happy getting down with James Brown. With composting. With worms. With Jeff. With being a mom. And with being a Pescatarian.
And I, I am happy that my spouse encourages me to have the kind of fun I like to have. And that Wendy told me that she will never forget feeling a really special kind of energy when she came to our house in New Jersey five years ago. That makes me really happy.
As we put our own spin on our answers, trying to outdo each other’s happiness factor, it became quite clear, sitting around the dual-generational fire pit at The Carolina Inn on Saturday night, that we are, indeed, a pretty happy bunch of people.
And, maybe that’s just because we all know how important it is to make the time to do the things that make us happy. In the places that make us happy. With the people who make us happy.
Or, maybe it’s because while we know that we can’t be responsible for anyone else’s happiness, the truth of it is, we are.
And that, in itself, is a very happy thought.