There’s a man standing in line just ahead my family and me at Skyzone. He looks to be maybe mid-fifties, patiently waiting, and he doesn’t appear to be with any children. Why, I wonder, would anyone voluntarily come to this place and subject themselves to this sensory overload? Children are screaming, pushing in and out of line, and everything smells like feet. I am holding water bottles and extra socks, and am fairly convinced that I have died and am now entering the fourth circle of Hell. Curious, I watch this man and stand gape-jawed as he springs up on the trampoline with an elaborate twist and flings himself into the foam pit. He emerges, smiling, looking quite proud of himself and quickly finds another spot at the back of the line. I’m both perplexed and intrigued.
When Did I Stop Being Fun?
We shall bypass the part where we pass the elder gymnast at the end of the day and he is sitting by the exit holding an icepack to his knee, but this man got me thinking. When did he learn to have so much fun? When did I stop having fun? My definition of fun has obviously evolved over the years, but I’m struggling to identify what is “fun” for me now. As a kid, I lived for days spent running through the sprinklers, creating my own plays starring Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and perfecting homemade forts. Eventually my idea of fun morphed into the keg stand variety, but since having kids, my fun has often devolved into Netflix binges after the kids have gone to sleep. This isn’t to say I don’t have nights with friends or that I can’t get down on a riveting game of Uno with my kids, but somewhere along the way, my concept of fun morphed into curating fun for the kids and relegating my own fun to the back burner. A life with fun tucked into the crevices isn’t my idea of a life well lived, but it’s one I’ve been living off and on for the last seven years.
Parents, and mothers in particular, are often tied to our duties while overseeing and making sure everyone else is having a good time. We are the keepers of belongings, appliers of sunblock, preparers of snacks, arrangers of playdates, and the watchers and overlords of everyone else’s good time.
So this summer, we head to Sunriver for a family vacation of bike riding, hiking, games, and the dreaded trip to the water park. The water park is on par with Skyzone for me – so many children, so many smells, and now there’s the added bonus of navigating swarms of bodies in my swimsuit and staying on high alert as a self-appointed lifeguard.
When my daughter asks me to go down the waterslide with her, I hesitate, but recognize that these moments are slipping away at rapid pace, so I say yes. It is windy and cold, and I’d rather not be waiting in line behind angsty teenagers, but here we are. We are at the front of the line and I am now trying to lower myself in a water tube in the same position that is generally reserved for my gynecologist. The teenage lifeguard is averting her eyes, looking both bored and horrified, and this is awkward for both of us. But when she steps aside and gives us the go ahead, my daughter and I catapult into twisty darkness and I’m squealing at the top of my lungs because this is a blast. This is the fun of my childhood, and I get the added bonus of experiencing it with my little girl. We end up going four more times, and all the wedgies are worth it.
Squirt Guns and Slip N’ Slides
Since becoming a mother, I have designated myself as a spectator of fun, rather than a partaker, and that’s a choice I’ve been starting to question. Yes, having children often means participating in activities that I’d rather not be doing like meandering through the dinosaur exhibit at OMSI or watching my son do his 489th impression of the Hulk, and yes, I still enjoy my life. But somewhere I bought into the idea that my kids having fun was the utmost priority, and their fun and my fun were mutually exclusive.
I’m letting go of this archaic assumption. Parents deserve fun too, and sometimes, having fun is a choice. I’m not in the stage of life where I can day drink with a book in hand all day or jet off to Barbados for a weekend just because I feel like it. Come to think of it, I’ve never been in that stage of life, but it sounds amazing. Fun now requires a perspective shift, a prioritizing, a decision. I can orchestrate fun or I can participate. I can be bummed that my days have a high ratio of wiping other people’s butts, or I can pick up a squirt gun and run through the sprinklers. I can wait until after my kids go to bed to enjoy my life, or we can wreck the kitchen with our home edition of “Nailed It” and I can challenge my kids to cannonball competitions. I dominate, by the way.
And sometimes, my fun and my sanity need to take priority, so my kids can suck it up for a trip to the bookstore and the tea shop and I will force my grandmotherly brand of fun on them. They’ll be fine.
I lost the art of fun, somewhere along the way, somehow believing my own fun only existed outside of my children. I am regularly challenging myself to rethink this mindset. Not of all parenting is fun. Not by a long shot, but how long until my house is empty and no one wants to stuff pillows under our shirts and run at each other? Sometimes I want to be on the sidelines with a book, bearing the snacks and drowning out their insanity, but sometimes I want to be in the messy, glorious middle. It’s just more fun.