In my younger days my mother would say to me, “Would you rather be happy or right?” and I would reply, “I’m happiest when I’m right!” I was young. Ready to take on the world. I thought I knew what was what. I wanted to go to law school. I could certainly hold my own in an argument.
But it took me until now to really understand what she meant.
And some people? They never get it.
I was at a neighborhood get-together and I met the elderly mother of one of my friends. She was visiting from out of state. We were chatting about her grandchildren, her visit and then moved to the innocuous topic of the weather. “The weather man said today that we’ve had 8 straight days with no sunshine,” I told her. “Well we had four days of no sun,” she replied. I thought she hadn’t heard me. I smiled and said, “Yes, but we’ve had more than a week without sun…unusual for this area.” I was trying to be more clear using the term “week” instead of 8 days. She said, “But we had 4 straight days of rain!” I just nodded as I tried to figure out if week or eight somehow rhymed with one, two or three and that she still just misunderstood. But she hadn’t. Every topic of conversation continued in the same vein. She had worse allergies, better seat at the event, worse meal on the plane. The draft we were feeling was stronger where she was standing – not 6 inches from me. I kept hearing my mother’s voice in my head, “happy or right? happy or right?” I nodded, smiling dumbly. I was going to be happy.
I would probably never see her again. With some people it’s easy to just smile and nod. Let them be right. With the people you love? Not so much.
And that’s what I struggle with. My husband knows a lot. About lots of things. Even when he doesn’t. My teenager knows everything, too. All the time. In her mind. These moments become defining moments where I pick my battles. The “happy or right?” mantra playing over and over in my head until I can choose what is needed for that situation. Sometimes, I can be happy that the movie we just saw was PG-13 (it was R rated) and wasn’t it pretty violent for PG-13? (really, it was R) I can smile and nod and be happy. “But you said I could go to Sara’s after the concert!” Ahhh, no, I didn’t. Your grandparents are visiting. “But you promised.” I wouldn’t have promised with out of town relatives visiting. You’re lucky you’re going to the concert. Any more discussion about this and you won’t be going to any concert.
Recently, while at a nice restaurant, a server brought two plates of the appetizer we ordered. “Oh,” I said, “We just ordered one.” She got very defensive and told us that our waiter had written down two. Our waiter, was standing just behind her and smiled. “No,’ he said, “It was two soups,” which he had in his hands. He set the soup in front of my husband and I. “No it wasn’t!” She wanted a fight. He just smiled. And I could faintly hear: happy or right? happy or right? I believed him. You know how you can just tell when someone is right? He had proven to be a very experienced waiter so far. I don’t believe he made the mistake. And he wasn’t going to engage with her- not in front of the customers, anyway. But I think he was choosing to be happy.
Knowing when to Pick Your Battles and the Smile and Nod. It’s a dance I do every day. And I’m getter better and better. Pretty soon, I’ll be good enough to try out for So You Think You Can Dance. And I bet I’ll win!