The Bright Side: Is There an Optimism Gene?

Go ahead, call me a Pollyanna. I'm one of those super-cheerful moms who always sees the silver lining -- and I'm secretly happy my kids have inherited the sunny gene.
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"What about these?" Ben asks as he holds up a pair of empty tissue boxes -- two of dozens we have down here, waiting to be recycled into art projects. He is 11 years old and standing in our basement, ankle-deep in freezing water. In 10 minutes it will be midnight. "There are tons more, and if we cut them open and taped them together, we could make a kind of channel for the water."

I don't have any better ideas. It has been a crazy winter: It snowed, snowed more and then kept snowing, like snow was the new air. Snow piled up in drifts so high that the children tunneled a maze of snow caves through the yard. Cardinals have been posing picturesquely, red against the white, as if they're waiting for us to paint them. Lovely. Truly. Only now, after a sudden thaw, melted snow is Niagara-ing over the baseboards and we are trying to move it across the floor, drainward.

"Oh, honey," I say. I'm tired and despairing. "That's a great idea -- but shouldn't you go to bed?" But he's already duct-taping boxes together. "Are you kidding me?" he says, his eyes shining. "I love this!"

And he does. He tries the box channel, which works briefly before sogging into uselessness. He tries taping together toilet tubes, plastic clamshells, wooden blocks; he sketches solutions on a piece of cardboard; he scratches his head and taps his chin like a caricature of a person problem-solving. The water rises and my husband, Michael, who is tinkering with the sump pump, sings the Titanic theme song in full vibrato.

Obviously, I'm not precisely happy -- but this is far from the least fun I've ever had. In fact, it is strangely delightful: I can't help noticing how creative and helpful my son is, how capable and good-natured his father. I can't help noticing how, on the two floors above us, the house offers us all the sheltering warmth we need. I can't help noticing, in sum, how lucky we are. This is how it goes for us: Given the fact that our lives are far from perfect, we seem to spend a lot of time in the glow of the silver lining. We make a lot of lemonade.

Continued on page 2:  Not Even Lice


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