I Need to Fun More

I know it’s not a verb, the word “fun,” but maybe it should be. Forcing me to use the word “have” before it, making it something I must acquire, adds that much more distance to the goal, an extra obstacle I must overcome before reaching my desired level of happiness.

I’m a good mom, as evidenced by the fact that my kids are healthy (mostly), active (usually), intelligent (reasonably), kind (often), get along with each other (usually), have friends, and rank reasonably high on whatever other parenting metrics you may wish to apply. Other than religion; we’re not religious. But we are moral, so there’s that.

But the point is, I work hard at being a mom. I check my language, try to be a good example, offer sympathy when needed and sternness when appropriate. I comfort but don’t coddle. I listen. I feed them, usually well-balanced meals. I drive them to their events and watch their games (and there are a LOT of games). I coordinate our schedule, our meals, the shopping, the homework, practices, games, concerts, tournaments, school meetings—you know, the day-to-day managing to make sure everyone gets where they need to get. With a shared digital calendar, of course, that has only been tampered with once by one grumpy kid not wanting to go somewhere. I rely on my calendar to tell me where I need to be when, and I plan ahead to manage conflicts.

And on days when I’ve got to pick up my eldest from school 25 minutes east, then get the other two to practice 20 minutes west, if I ask the young’uns to be ready to go when I get back, then I expect them to be waiting by the back door with their shin guards and cleats on, water bottles in hand. I expect they have eaten the food I’ve set out for them (assuming I remembered to do that). And if they’re not ready, if instead they’re goofing off, doing homework, or still eating, then they know I’ll lose my cool.

See, being late is my kryptonite. I hate it. I buffer time to make sure that I get where I need to be early. And if we’re going to be late because my kid got caught up playing with his Magic cards in the basement or, worse, playing games on his iPad that he’s not allowed to use before finishing his homework and rarely on school days anyhow, you can count on the fact that I will yell.

I know better. Yelling at kids is either horribly psychologically damaging or, in the case of my kids, completely ineffectual. They tune me out, don’t listen at all until I’ve gone totally Katie Kaboom on them. And then I’m pissed off because they only listen when I yell, so why should I even talk to them in a normal voice ever, and they apologize, but I’m too upset to believe them because they’re still joking around, and I can’t stop complaining until their sweet playful moods have slipped away and they’re sitting quietly.

The silence takes away my anger, and slowly they talk again, their bunny rabbit playfulness not gone but merely hidden long enough for my grumpy bear temper to stalk away. And before long, they’re back at it, chattering away in their shared language, discussing Magic or Madden Mobile, the cloud I have tossed above their heads dissipated amidst their bright spirits.

Sounds sad, doesn’t it? I’m responsible. It comes with the territory, this need to ensure that those in my care also fulfill their duties, that we are all on time, or—

Or what? It reflects badly on us? My kid arrives on time for practice instead of five minutes early? Or–gasp–he arrives late? You know what happens to him if he gets to practice late? He has to run laps. Do you know what happens to me if he is late? Nothing. Maybe I’ll get a worse parking spot than desired, or I’ll have five less minutes to read my book/talk to another parent/walk one fewer lap in the two-and-a-half hours that I’m there, but really? Is that need for punctuality really worth dimming the light inside my kids?

When I put it that way, the answer is obvious. No. I don’t owe anyone else more consideration and respect than my relationship with my children. If they need to be on time, then they need to learn to be on time. They need to want to be on time. I need only to transport them. I don’t need to be so emotionally engaged in the moment that their punctuality affects my happiness.

But this only takes me so far. Step one is to disengage my happiness from their behavior and/or moods. Step two is to fun. And I mean fun as a verb. It’s not enough to have fun. I must be fun, live fun, jump into a pool of fun and splash around. Toss chocolate-covered fun in the air and catch it in my mouth.

Have is too passive a word to be paired with fun. It’s like bungee jumping in a three piece suit, drinking a milkshake while doing taxes. It’s a gift given out of pity, a cheap plastic party favor kazoo to play while your brother pounds on his new drum set. It’s not enough.

Fun must be fun. No, fun must fun!

Yesterday, my nine-year-old and I went to buy printer paper. After putting the giant box into the trunk of my minivan (or shall I say momivan?), my son crossed the parking lot to return the shopping cart to the store. As he did that, I pulled the car around and waited at the curb for him to emerge.

And somewhere in the time while we waited, a bolt of fun shot through us.
The door to the store slid open.
He started to run.
I pressed the button.
The rear sliding van door glided open.
He ran.
I watched.
He leapt inside, yelled “Go! Go! Go!” as I called “Get in! Get in!”
Button pressed, door closed, seatbelt buckled, and we made our getaway, escaping in peals of laughter before someone could come out and say, “Thank you for returning the cart.”

So go on, get out there and fun.

Nivi Engineer is a novelist and playwright in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a mom of three boys, and escapes the never-ending sports calendar through reading. This month, she's learning that the capital of Tajikistan is Dushanbe. And now, so will you.