Yesterday, as we were putting our shoes on for our afternoon adventure, Little Dude looked at me, smiled contentedly, and said – for the first time, mind you – “happy.”

Needless to say, I melted. And moreover, at a moment when life is certainly not without its challenges, I experienced a sense of gratification that is difficult to express. At 17 months, he still has fewer words at his command than he does fingers. So, as I figure it, the fact that he’s managed to wrap his little mouth around “happy” before learning even “no” must mean I’m doing something right. Right?

Words have a high value in our household, so I took pains to make sure that I was properly understanding my small sidekick. “You’re telling me you’re happy, bud? You’re excited to go to the beach with Daddy?”

“Happy.” He said again, with that grin on his mug. There was no mistaking it – and no denying the rush that I felt. This stay-at-home-parent gig, like any other, has its daily ups and downs. And sometimes, the lows can be seriously low. But that smile is the most valuable paycheck I’ve ever received.