We are sitting on the couch, my three-year-old and I, and I am attempting to give him medication through the nebulizer for his painful, heavy cough and wheezing. The prescribed dose takes about 12-15 minutes to administer, and if you know any three-year-olds, you also know that getting them to stay in one place for so long is well-nigh impossible.

He is squirming, wiggling, squiggling. I am trying to soothe, to occupy, to distract. He has more energy, more creativity and a lot more stamina than me. Needless to say, he is winning.

“Just 10 more minutes,” I plead, not that he has any sense of time – or cares. Meanwhile, my five-year-old is at my elbow. “Mo-mmy, Maaaaaaa-meeeeee,” she whines. I am also holding a baby – who happens to have pneumonia. He whimpers. Did I mention I’ve been awake since 4:30 a.m.? That I never even went to bed two nights before because my kids were so sick and miserable and someone needed me all the time? That my eyes are burning and my brain cells are in “unavailable mode”?

Something is tickling my brain. It’s a tidbit from a study I read about how children are more distracted by singing than by talking. I’ve already seen that in my own life with my own kids, especially in the car. But I am so, so tired. I can’t think of any songs. My brain is an idling car engine, verses and lines starting and stopping, sputtering through my mind. Ironically, it’s “If You’re Happy and You Know It” that comes out.

No one is happy, but never mind. I force myself to push “play,” to sing. “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands,” I croon, my voice tired, scratchy and slightly off-key. The three-year-old and five-year-old clap half-heartedly. Encouraged, I sing another verse. They click their tongues, surprisingly obedient. I sing another and another. Soon we are stomping our feet, wagging our tongues, patting our heads, waving our arms, cock-a-doodle-dooing … and smiling. Soon my other kids, the older ones, have gathered around. Even they are singing, jumping, turning around in circles, shouting “hooray.”

I sing on and on. My throat is getting so hoarse, I am running out of “happy-and-you-know-it” ideas and actions, but their faces are shining. The nebulizer finishes its course and is shut off. We sing more and more until finally, I’m all out of puff. When I finally stop, I look around and see glowing faces and warm smiles, and I feel good, too. Everyone is actually happy. And we know it.

Our Sages say that if we can’t perform the commandments with the proper intentions, do them anyway – eventually the right reasons will fall into place. Our little sing-a-long showed me the same thing. We weren’t happy – and we knew it. But we sang and clapped anyway. And by the end, we were clapping, smiling, and meaning it.