There are two distinct funs once you become a parent: actual fun and parental fun. Actual fun is the life I had before kids. It’s travel, adventure, bike rides, hikes, sunsets, big waves, a great meal, a great movie, a great book. Actual fun is conversations that wander and take unexpected turns with people who can make me laugh until I cry. Is it possible that my children are becoming those people? Am I trading in parental fun (baby giggles from the baby swings) for actual fun (squeals from beside me on a roller coaster)? Is it possible that I can once again be the person I was before people wiped their noses on my shirt?
More and more often lately I notice myself having actual fun. Sure, I enjoyed watching my toddlers toddle; no sound is as sweet as baby giggles; and I’ll always miss dimpled knuckles, wet baby kisses, and those hilarious early mispronunciations. I loved a lot about those days, but there was little actual fun. Those days were mostly work, flecked with moments of sometimes transcendent bliss, usually interrupted by disgusting bodily emissions. But not actual fun.
At eight and nearly six, my kids are (sometimes) actually fun to be around. They’re engaging, happy, and keen to try new things. They might still have a hundred annoying conversations to every interesting one, but at least it’s not a thousand. They’re big enough for so many things, but at the same time, they’re little enough to still think I’m awesome. I sufficiently remember my childhood to know that this stage must be fleeting.
After all those years of doing things I hated, (I’m looking at you, Music Together,) for the sake of my children’s happiness and to ward off the tedium of spending all day with illiterate, inarticulate, incontinent, uncivilized companions, I can’t believe my luck when I get to simultaneously experience actual fun and parental fun.
Suddenly, we can do things together like go for bike rides in the woods, one of my favorite actual fun activities. I get the actual fun of riding through sun-dappled trails, breeze on my face, and the bonus parental fun of sharing something I love with these little people I love, of watching them steel their nerves to try something new, of seeing their tongue-in-teeth effort and concentration, of those bright-eyed smiles and unbridled whoops when they make it. It is so much ACTUAL fun!
While my shirt might still suffer other people’s snot on occasion, I find myself feeling more like myself lately because I’m doing the things I used to do. Instead of activities that I hate and they like, we can watch movies we all enjoy, read books we all enjoy, and play games we all enjoy. So long, Go Fish! Luke can play Rummy 500 and Sally plays a mean game of chess.
Gone are the baby days, the toddler days, the cry-over-the-wrong-color-cup days. Ahead are the tween days, the teen days, the ugh-my-mom-is-so-embarrassing days. We seem to be in a sweet spot. How long do I have here?