I just want to clear something up so I don’t have to die inside every time I hear this question. According to dictionary.com, “fun” is something that provides “mirth or amusement.” It goes on to say that apparently, “a picnic would be fun.”
Interesting. I’m not so sure. I rather think that a picnic is fun if you’re a four-year-old who doesn’t have to enter into the logistics behind it.
You don’t have to organize it, buy it, prepare it, lug bags and boxes and Tupperware and sunshades from your car to the park, beach, or chosen destination like a pack mule struggling with a heavy load… and then clean it all up afterward.
This example–no offense–was obviously written by a man. Because I can tell you this: The woman creating all this “mirth” was probably not having “fun.” Being the unpaid unappreciated hired help is anything but fun.
I can conjure up endless moments of pure unbridled carefree abandonment in my life–and none of them involve Tupperware.
Are You Having Fun Yet?
I remember hearing someone with kids once say that seeing their children happy made them happy. Like they literally lived vicariously through their offspring. I thought that was such a sad melancholy statement. As if they had given up on life and were now watching it through the lens of someone else.
But now it’s happening to me.
Life is about survival. It’s not an overstatement to say that right now my only joy comes from theirs. It’s about getting through the days with grit and determination. Working around the clock for only half the salary, taking orders full time, and making Gosh darn sure that that the freaking picnic is fun–for them.
Because being the sole carer of two infants is anything but fun. It’s pretty safe, in fact, to say that the “fun” aspect is spectacularly dwarfed by the scared shitless, obsessive-compulsive worrying and strangling constant fear in your stomach that you’re not doing it right and that your children are not having enough fun.
It’s certainly not aided by the fact that beyond diapers and wet wipes, you now have to go back home because you forgot your mask or that your kids don’t understand the meaning of “social distancing” and run up to talk to every person they see who then shoots you a withering look loaded with disapproval for your utter failure to keep your kids on a leash.
Grind, Grind, Grind
Every screw I turn, every nail I bang, every mile I drive, every meal I prepare, every mess I clean, every order I fulfill, and every mind-numbing YouTube video of Russian children opening presents I endure with the sole intention of their wellbeing. There is a word for it. There are plenty of words for it. But “fun” isn’t the first that comes to mind.
These last few months have been like a cross between an endurance test and death by a thousand cuts. I work harder than anyone I know. That’s just the “work” that’s considered work. The stuff I get paid for.
All the cleaning pee-stained sheets, scrubbing walls, whisking away broken glass, arguing over the necessity of wearing clothes outside the house and not snorkeling gear, mopping floors after bathtime, picking up toys, selecting schools, (trying to) get residence in a Latin country during a pandemic, piecing together children’s toys and furniture that are designed by sociopaths… IS NOT F@@KING FUN!
It’s not in the little tiniest bit fun. It’s the very opposite of fun. And it certainly isn’t a picnic.
Then Your Tire Explodes
As with everything in life, your own microscopic situation is constantly wrenched into perspective by almost anything else. The sheer amount of human suffering out there kicks your own pathetic laments into submission.
Every time I think my problem bucket is full and it can’t handle one more drop before it overflows, I go and lock myself out of my house and have to risk life and limb to scale three stories to the top of the roof or my tire blows out on the highway with the kids in the back.
These are just the drops that overflow the bucket. That deep dense substance in there needs to stay submerged and mentally compartmentalized. It’s taken me a while to realize this but, as humans, the older we get, the more like icebergs we become. There’s a mere glimmer of ourselves above the surface and a lifetime of memories buried underneath.
Today’s little bucket filler took me (somewhat pathetically) to near breaking point. I mean, can handle the rage-inducing bureaucracy. I can deal with the prejudice and incomprehension about my unacceptable life choices and even the countless cold hard glares that penetrate me with what a terrible mother I am.
I can even deal with the fact that I am little more than a cash cow and an unpaid servant. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry this evening when Cataleya summoned me for the fifth time upstairs, “Mommy, come,” she bellowed, and I warned, “this is the last time I am coming up, I am not your servant,” to which she looked at me and reflected, “well, actually you are quite a bit like our servant.”
But I don’t have a clue, not a single clue how to change a tire. Especially when I have no spare tire and I am stuck on the side of the road with two kids, no internet, no cell phone service, and close to 40 degrees in a different country from where I’m insured.
I was exhausted.
We were making our way back from a weekend away that I thought would be (joke’s on me) “fun”.
I collapsed behind the wheel for a moment–a long moment–repeating, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do” over and over like a mantra. It was 40 degrees outside and the earth was scorched. Neither of my phones would work. I didn’t even know where I was.
Eventually, after some time quietly bawling, I pulled myself together and threw myself (in a socially distanced way of course with a mask on) upon the mercy of the car that pulled up beside me. I don’t know their names or their numbers but all I know is that they saved me. They lent me their phone, they bought my children icecream, they got me a coffee, they gave me some will to live, and I was able to finally contact the insurance company.
A traveling French couple came over asking if I needed help. They tried their best to inflate the tire but it was beyond broken. They tried again, they tried and tried. I didn’t ask for help but they gave it gladly anyway.
And of course, it was all OK. It wasn’t the best day ever waiting for hours in the punishing heat with the kids who wanted to run around the incoming cars and play in the traffic or enter the service station and touch everything and ask for everything from lubricant to sponges and toy unicorns. But, eventually, someone came. They came.
It Was All OK
We retraced 40 minutes or so of ground we had already covered back towards our hotel to find a tire shop. The recovery truck came and picked up the car. Breaking down in August in a pandemic on a Sunday isn’t the most opportune of times, it turns out.
When we reached the tire shop, the owner’s house was adjacent. A kindly lady came out and asked if the children were thirsty or hungry. She brought them bread, juice, smiles, and kindness.
The kind of overflowing kindness that we had experienced in Bali. That raw humanity that makes this sometimes awful life worth living. The same that makes me realize that “fun” maybe just isn’t a priority right now.
Now’s the time to step up and deliver and make sure that the kids can be kids without thinking about the entire backstage preparations of the picnic, and that their main concern when they’re stuck on a roadside in a country whose language you don’t understand is a lack of internet rather than a fear of being stranded forever.
Every fiber of my being is invested in my children being children right now. And because I am a parent, their fun (in that sad and melancholy way) is also mine. So, there you go… Maybe I really am having a ball after all.