For reasons nobody can remember now, we often call them a total padinky, but they also go by the grumpies, the crankies, the grumbles, and, when utter seriousness is required, a mood. As in, "Sweetie, I'm noticing you've gotten yourself into a bit of a mood." Or, sometimes, "Hey, Mama, I'm wondering if you're in kind of a mood. Do you want to do a Mood Changer?" It doesn't matter whose mood it is--my 10-year-old daughter Birdy's, my 13-year-old son Ben''s, or mine (their father, Michael, seems annoyingly immune to moods)--the answer to that question is, "Yes, I want to do a Mood Changer." Even if that answer must be--as it so often must--mumbled out of a cranky mouth.
Over the decade we've been practicing the Mood Changer, we've tried out various approaches. Sometimes the Mood Changer involves shaking your head vigorously to the side so the bad mood can drip out your ear. Sometimes it's four-person wrestling on the bed, sometimes holding hands and skipping exuberantly around the house or yard (and, once, after Michael pulled the car over and disgorged its grumpy passengers, in an abandoned field). Sometimes the Mood Changer takes the form of a loud interpretation of the theme song from the 1970s sitcom Three's Company (long story).
Most often, though, the Mood Changer of choice is what we call the Classic, and everyone has to do it with you. You exaggerate your misery, twisting your face into the most horrible expressions while groaning and growling--then you pass your hand over your mouth and, like magic, a smile appears. And remains.
Clearly, the exact nature of the Mood Changer isn't what matters most; your family doubtless will develop the style that best suits your crew. What matters is the fact of it. The Mood Changer works because it gives you permission to completely change your outlook.
We can all get locked into our grumpiness by inertia or pride. If something's a big enough deal to be cranky about, then doesn't it end up seeming frivolous if you simply let it go? No matter why you're aggrieved--board-game bad luck ("Ugh! I've had the q and no u for this entire Scrabble game!"), fallout from nagging ("Fine. I'll wear the itchy hat."), frustration ("I keep sewing my sleeve to this puppet I'm trying to make!"), or sibling provocation--you can feel stuck in your gloom.
The Mood Changer encourages fluidity: moods come and go, and you can let them. Plus, the sheer silliness of it is uplifting. And studies show that even fake smiling can make you happier.
There's something else that's magical about the Mood Changer, something that's a little trickier to explain and possibly more important than any other aspect of it: it's that your family cares enough to help. Instead of getting angry or abandoning your gloomy self, they take you gently by the hand (or they pin you roughly to the mattress) and lead you out of your dark place. They say, without saying it, "I see you. You're feeling bad. Let's do something about it." They sing, "Life is a ball again, laughter is calling for you!" And so it is.
Catherine Newman and her family live in Amherst, MA.
Originally published in the April 2013 issue of FamilyFun