Just as I am typing this title, my sleepy Kiddo, so cute in his submarine pajamas, walks into the kitchen and over to where I sit here, with Gus on my lap, and snugs up to me. "Mom, what are we going to do today that's fun?"
Not "Mama, my heart's angel, deliverer of my life, good morning, how are you?"
Not "Mom, I had a dream about you and you were defeating Lord Garmadon and the skeletons and you are the best mom in the world."
No, the first things usually off his lips in the mornings these days is: "Mom, what fun thing are we doing today?"
This makes me want to slip into my new alter-ego, Julie, from The Love Boat. Remember Julie? She was the cruise director, always directing people to fun activities like scuba diving in Puerto Vallarta or shuffleboard on the Lido Deck. Julie always had time to make life fun for everyone and every so often, she'd even have a few minutes to get herself involved in some heartbreaking romance for a week or so. Julie was all about fun and excitement. Me?
"Well, sweetie, today we're making chocolate chip cookies."
"Okay. (Looking over to Joe.) Dad, will you come lay in bed with me for a few minutes?" Off they go. And I feel like Julie again: the Julie who just got dumped by her dinner date (they were going to eat at the Captain's Table, too!) by some guy who has taken up with some exotic looking-creature in disco dress instead.
The cookies are actually significant to me. We were going to make cookies yesterday, but I forgot to take the butter out of the freezer early on and there's no way you can cream butter and sugar together when the butter is in a solid state. I could have been a sport and shown Kiddo "hey, let's see if we can mangle the beaters and destroy my hand mixer", but see, I'm not a Fun Mom, more a utilitarian, all-purpose sort of mom. I will need that working hand mixer for another day when you are bored, Kiddo, so we had to wait an extra day on the cookies. No big deal, though, because yesterday, we got to do a bike ride to the store. He picked out some fusilli, chatted up his favorite grocery store personnel and we went home.
and we got to make Pesto! Big whoop-ti-do, right? Not for us. Making pesto is a sort of culinary coming together for Kiddo and I, one of our more sensory activities. We pluck the basil leaves from their stems, he gets to pick out the big chunks of fresh Parmesan I've grated, and he's my Master Cuisinart Button-Pusher. Over the past few years he's learned how to use the 'pulse' button without being told "push/stop/push/stop", so he's a wiz at getting the pine nuts and cheese ready for the basil and olive oil. Yesterday he tested the nearly-finished product on a tasting spoon and declared "it needs more salt". Kiddo is into this whole pesto thing and loved being able to stir the bright green sauce into the warm fusilli, sneaking bites while I pretended not to notice.
There is still work being done on our house, and the two fellows doing the job are in their 50s and childless by choice. That's right-- neither has had a child or helped to raise one. Yet, I still feel judged by their presence, by what they don't say when I'm helping Kiddo with his homework on into the second hour and losing my patience, and by the repeated mention of The Fun Mom.
The Fun Mom is the wife of one of Carl's* friends. I kept hearing her referred to as "The Fun Mom" so often that I thought this might be the name you'd find on her birth certificate. Maybe she was the product of forward-thinking parents who knew she was destined for popularity among the friends of her future children? I don't know, and really, don't care. The fact is, even though I've never met this woman, she was bugging the hell out of me. I'd be exasperated, reminding Kiddo to write his name on his homework, and he'd be fretting and whining how boring it was to write one's name on one's work because he has to do it "all the time" (oh, child!), and in would pop Carl, regaling me with another story of The Fun Mom, another mention of how all the kids like to hang out at her house.
Another affirmation that being the utilitarian "get it done' mom isn't cool.
Until I noticed, one day, that the one story I kept getting about The Fun Mom was that she allowed the kids to play video games in the basement. That she is cool because she lets the young'uns play some shoot'em-up game where (Carl tells me) the kids have their characters stand over the victim and shoot them and then the kids yell "I teabagged him!" in victory, not knowing that 'teabagging' isn't the term for killing anyone, unless it's with total embarrassment at a gay strip bar....
I mean, WOW! Compared to that, I am SOOOOO not the fun mom. And it suddenly occurred to me that even if I am not a whole bucket of fun 24/7, I shouldn't care what anyone (who doesn't live here) thinks of my parenting. I am a housewife who folded four loads of laundry yesterday while my son watched "The Cat in the Hat" tv show. I am fun enough to tolerate Martin Short's goofy voices for my son's sake. I am fun enough that even though I had two full racks of dishes to wash, I also put together a math refresher sheet with a nickel-arcade theme and gave him a dollar's worth of nickels to work the story problems through. ("The game needs 4 nickels to play. With all the nickels, how many times can you play the game?") Fun enough to read him his "Ninjago" early reader over again, even though it bores me to tears. I got on the phone and arranged a playdate for him on Saturday. And I let him have an ice cream cone, just because.
This mom is trying. Really, really, trying. I'm not Julie. Julie didn't have crumb-laden floors because the passengers never minded the warning "Please eat over your plates!". Julie didn't have two full baskets of clothes and linens to fold: I'm pretty sure there was a laundry staff of underpaid workers on The Pacific Princess. I'm not the freaking entertainment coordinator, I'm trying to run a household. This means that I am chef and scullery maid all at once. This means that sometimes we have to walk to the store for groceries, but don't worry, you can bike, even though somehow-- for reasons which don't make sense--it always takes longer when you bike. This means that sometimes I'll offer you playdough to keep busy while I'm washing the dishes...
But if you don't want to do Playdough and you don't like my other suggestions, I'm comfortable letting you find your own fun. I do not think you will D-I-E if you are not entertained. So I will let you be bored, sometimes, so you can figure out what to do on your own. You can help me if you like, with what I'm doing, I'd love your company. And I know that some would say that reading, math and writing during summertime to keep our skills sharp isn't necessarily fun, but I'm looking for ways to keep it interesting. I'm trying to keep it all balanced. I'm trying to ensure we don't have a two-month-long transitional meltdown like we did last fall. Because that was the Most UnFun Ever. Ever.
The other day, Kiddo and I were talking, again with the "what sort of excitement have you cooked up for me today, Mom?" conversation and I dropped a bomb on him.
"Sweetie, my job as your mother is to take care of you, to make sure you are growing and learning and that you are healthy and fed and alive. And that you have a safe and friendly house to grow up in. But it's not my job to make life fun for you or keep you happy. That's for you to figure out--- how to find that happy place inside yourself, and how to be happy with what you have. Just like it is your job to follow directions and take care of your tasks, but it isn't your job to make me happy either."
This is likely both sobering and liberating at once. This at once declared that I am not, as we thought, Julie-- whose focus is solely on making others feel like they are having a good time-- instead, I'm Captain Stubing, running the ship and trying to keep it on course. While Julie will happily drop everything for you to make sure your experience is pleasurable, Captain Stubing is more "Learn to play solitaire, dude, I'm steering this damn thing and trying not to hit a coral reef."
As for the Fun Mom, I never hear about her kids doing homework. I'm sure they do it, it likely just doesn't fit into the Fun Mom story. Besides, why am I listening to some childless guy's opinions about parenting anyway? I might give them more credence if he was a peer teacher or a step-parent, but his background was in "Hot Cars, Hot Girls" before he became a carpenter. He's a good carpenter, and hell, I wouldn't tell him how to do his job-- if I was in charge of that, the house would probably be on the ground already. So maybe I'll be less self-conscious and not let those Fun Mom comments get in my craw so much. I'll bet he's never gone into Hour Two of homework--repeatedly-- like I have with Kiddo.
But he's not a bad guy, so we'll still give him some cookies. If cookies aren't fun, I don't know what is.
*Carl is not this guy's real name. Just so's ya know.