Actual Fun vs. Parental Fun

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.

Actual 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?

Guilt and Photography

I feel like my life, parenthood especially, is a constant struggle against time. Time is moving too swiftly or too slowly, leaving me either breathless in its wake or frustrated and eager for what comes next. My coping mechanisms, of which I have two- guilt and photography- are inadequate.

When I think of how quickly my kids are growing up my heart squeezes with the early pangs of nostalgia. All too soon my house will be empty of squeals and giggles and the pitter-patter (actually much more like elephant thumps) of little feet. As much as I long for peace and quiet, I know that’s my eventual reward and I don’t want it too soon. I may crave physical space, (must we always be touching?) but I know that I will never again have the heat from their small forms curled affectionately against my body; my hand will be forever bereft of their little hands to hold. I will no longer be the embodiment of safety and comfort.

Stay young, kids. Stay naive and sweet and full of that open bursting joy that comes with childhood. Stay small. Stay here- in my arms, under my roof, driving me crazy- for a while longer.

I’m sorry I’ve been impatient. Yes, I want to hear you sing that song again. Yes, I’ll watch your cartwheels and bike tricks and monkey bar accomplishments.

Another snack? Sure, my darlings.

Yes, I will tuck you in again and read another story. I’m sorry I get annoyed when you come back downstairs. Let’s go up together and savor these moments.

Anything. You can have anything and everything from me.

Guilt and longing. So I take photos. I take hundreds of them trying to freeze time, hold on to this. If I can capture that messy haired, barefooted moment of exalted summertime little-kid-ness, then it will stay with me forever. If I take photos of all of this, then surely my guilt will be assuaged.

Look, life, I’m not impatiently waiting for them to get bigger and put themselves to bed. I’m savoring. SAVORING! So you can slow down a bit. I get it.

But it doesn’t slow down. It can’t. Click.Click. I take more pictures.

At the same time, these very same people who I long to hold onto but who move through my arms inevitably, liquid and beautiful and unattainable as quicksilver, drive me completely crazy. Their noise and movement are constant and relentless against my senses, completely overwhelming. I just want a break.

Just a moment’s peace, please! Please stop asking me for this or that.

Please let me walk away. No, I don’t want to watch.

Please stop fighting.

Do you have to make noise at all times? Can’t you be still for just a moment?

Seriously, you’re hungry again?

Look around you at all we’ve provided for your enrichment and entertainment. You have books and toys and bikes and a big yard with a freaking swing set in it! There are hoses and sprinklers and balls and a stream and woods full of mysteries to explore!

Go! Go away and do the things!

Puddle gazing

Oh, look how adorable! Heads together they study some small puddle. Click.Click. And now, look how they chase each other around the house on their bikes. Click.

Their shouts and laughter follow them as they move through their world at a dizzying pace, everyday growing infinitesimally larger, infinitesimally closer to leaving all of this behind for the trappings of bigger kids, leaving me behind as a relic of their littleness, no longer wanted as desperately as I’m wanted now. Click.Click.Click.Click.

Guilt and longing. So I take photos.  

Why I’m afraid of summer vacation

Summer vacation is around the corner and I’m afraid. The hours of unstructured time yawning before me, stretching unfathomably far into the future, have me quaking in my flip-flops. The very fact that I’m filled with dread speaks to my clear maternal deficiencies. According to the internet, other mothers feel excited about all the “quality time” summer affords them. They see sprinklers, trips to the zoo, and happy exhausted children experiencing childhood without the stress and rigors of school. I see something much more sinister that mostly involves whining, yelling, tears over dropped popsicles, and sweat.

Are my children worse than everyone else’s? Perhaps other people’s children wake to a day of nothingness and think: I can ride my bike, read in the shade, chase butterflies, and enjoy my youth today! Mine don’t. Mine wake up early and already bored; the water in the sprinkler is too cold and the sun at the amusement park is too hot; the water guns got run over by the lawn mower and they don’t wanna read a book in the shade.

I suspect that it’s me that’s worse. The other mothers head off their children’s boredom by constantly organizing outings and activities. My children are insatiable though. We could spend all morning at a water park only to have them complain of boredom before we’ve made it out of the parking lot on our way home. They will play games, but only if I play with them. And here lies the crux of the problem: I don’t want to play with them. (See what I mean about maternal deficiency?) Those other mothers must enjoy the time spent with their children. I love my kids. I really do. Just thinking about them squeezes my heart in that slightly uncomfortable desperate way. But I like them more in theory than in practice.

At five and eight, their charms are not quite fully developed. Their jokes suck and their manners leave much to be desired. They’re not very good at games; they cry easily; and they whine and complain over every discomfort and delay – a mosquito bite or feeling peckish is the end of the world. I’m not much of a people person to begin with, but if I have to be around people I prefer adults, specifically the ones who have actually interesting things to say, actually funny senses of humor, and basically never ever fart on me.

We have some local day camps which my kids love. It’s a win-win situation as none of us really excel at dealing with unstructured time. The drawback is my guilt over sending them. After all, I’m supposed to be cherishing this time because it all goes so fast. Soon my little kids will be big kids, worse teenagers, and then they’ll move out and I’ll pine for these days. Today’s guilt transformed into tomorrow’s regret. They want so badly to play with me now and they’ll want nothing at all to do with me soon. Now’s the time I have to instill all the values in them, build the trust so they come to me when they’re grappling with serious problems, make sure they never drink and drive. I should be doing all of that while we cut star shapes out of watermelons and cover the driveway in chalk art.

But no matter how much I wish it, I’m not that Pinterest mom. I can’t keep my house organized with just 2 minutes per day, and I can’t spend a day with my kids without all of us fraying our last nerves. And so I’ll live with dread now, guilt soon, and regret further on. Bring on camp!

 

If you enjoyed this post, please share it!