07/26/2013 10:16 am ET Updated Sep 25, 2013

Have You Ever Been Happy?

Wendy Bradford

I would not say I am a happy person. By nature or by defect, I am often depressed and moody. And it is by knowing the darkness that I can experience its absence with pure appreciation.

There is an almost-6-year-old asleep on my sofa right now. She isn't feeling well, woke up several hours after her bedtime and fell back asleep next to me, covered in a baby blanket. Her father is on the other part of the sectional, also asleep. Dateline is on television. I left the room and walked back in, and it occurred to me how happy I am. (Perhaps because compared with Dateline storylines, most of us should be very happy indeed!)

Mothering leaves me unhappy many days -- dissatisfied with my children, angry with myself and my reactions, insecure about my ability to nurture three maturing souls. That is not the picture of motherhood I dreamed of; it is not what most of us expect. It is a reality, though, that our best efforts in caring for, entertaining, teaching and loving our children may leave us without satisfaction for days on end.

And then there is the magic of parenting that we cannot, but try to, describe to our friends about to have their own children. Those moments that, like spotting the first small grey bird on the feeder, or walking home at night under the fullest moon, calm the voices and assure us instantly, inexplicably that all is right.

Tonight, my oldest girl, experiencing stomach pain, repeated bathroom trips and symptoms of a stomach bug, lay on the sofa between her father and me, whining about her distress: "My butt!" And my husband and I smiled at each other, holding in our laughs. I don't know why. Or why this assured me our little world was intact. Happiness is tricky, but dependable:

...It even comes to the boulder

in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,

to rain falling on the open sea,

to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

--From "Happiness" by Jane Kenyon

It is a look in when I am almost outside of myself. It is a room buzzing with an air conditioner on a steamy July night. It is a child unable to sleep in her bed, a husband unable to stay awake after work. A laptop on a counter top in an otherwise dark kitchen. It comes when we think it never will.

Happiness itself may not exist outside of singular moments. We question its existence as we may question a God's. It makes us search a lifetime, and it takes our breath away with a single glance.

This post appeared originally on Mama One to Three.