My oldest daughter, Emma, typed up a list entitled “Rules for Summer,” and handed out a copy to each family member. I taped my copy to the wall by my computer. Number ten on the list is “have fun!!!” It’s the only item that got three exclamation points. When I think about having fun, I get a little uneasy. I think about Claire Dunphy.
When I iron, I watch back episodes of television shows online. It’s my guilty pleasure. My current favorite is the sitcom Modern Family. One of the main characters is Claire Dunphy, an intense, smart, and slightly anxious stay-at-home mom. Even though Claire’s stereotyped character is exaggerated for comedy’s sake, sometime the similarities between her and me make me cringe. In one episode, Claire and her husband switched roles–he was supposed to become the disciplinarian and she was going to become the “fun mom.” It isn’t hard to guess that by the end of the show, Claire and her kids were exhausted from her over-the-top, driven efforts to have fun. She falls into her husband’s arms and says, “I don’t want to be fun anymore.”
Claire once again touched a nerve. For some of us, fun is not as easy as it seems. For some of us, fun does not come naturally. In other words, some of us just don’t know how to have fun. But I’ve decided that this summer I’m going to tackle the issue of fun. (See what I mean? Only a fun-challenged person would use the phrase “tackle the issue of fun.”) The kids are out of school, the weather is great, and it’s time to learn all about fun. Besides, it’s a rule on Emma’s list.
The thing is, I don’t even know how to go about having fun. What does it look like? What does it feel like? How do I get fun started? I try to pinpoint the last time I had all-out fun: laughed freely, felt light and relaxed, enjoyed myself easily and fully. I keep coming back to a school trip to San Diego that I helped chaperone this spring. The one I dreaded. The one I almost didn’t go on. The one where I got no sleep, was cold and wet throughout most of it, and had to face down fast food menus three days in a row. I decide that to learn about how to be fun, I need to study why that trip turned out to be incredibly fun from the beginning to end.
RBR: Relaxed But Ready
A few weeks before we left for San Diego, Emma told me about a new term she’d invented.
“It’s called RBR. Relaxed But Ready,” she explained. “What it means is that I’m relaxed,” she did a little loose body jig to show me how relaxed she was, “but ready at the same time.” She crouched in the same stance that wrestlers use as they circle one another.
I laughed at her antics, but I have to admit, she was on to something. I thought about my yoga classes where my teacher gently but repeatedly has to remind me to soften my face when holding a pose. My effort was threatening to overshadow the therapeutic benefits of the stretch. Dr. John Thie, in an article for Touch For Health International Journal, writes, “Our chronic, usual emotions which dominate us are correlated with our structure. Our emotions affect our structure; our structure affects our emotions.”
This explains why people always ask if I’m okay when I’m concentrating or working out a problem in my head. The intensity of my thoughts show on my face and in my body language. As Sharon Promislow writes in her book Making the Brain Body Connection, “Our body is an external mirroring of our internal state.” Luckily for me, Promislow goes on to explain that we have the ability to consciously adjust this brain/body connection. “Research has shown that body posture alters the temperature of the brain, which in turn alters speed of chemical body reaction, emotions, and outlook,” writes Promislow. “By deliberately assuming the body posture of a particular state, we can shift our emotional state.”
I realize that for most of the trip to San Diego I was in an RBR posture, because I spent much of those four days smiling and laughing. Kids smile a lot, and since smiling is socially contagious, I couldn’t help but smile back. One student commented that I laughed during the entire trip. She added thoughtfully, “But I think it was because you were so tired.”
Whatever the reason, I did laugh a lot in San Diego, and the acts of smiling and laughing triggered a relaxed body state, which in turn shifted my emotions into the happy zone. And when you are happy, it is easier to be relaxed but ready for anything.
Say “Yes!” to the Splash Zone
When I am invited to go somewhere new, my first response is usually “no.” I am a planner and organizer. I need some lead time and preparation before I can jump into the unknown. But fun cannot be managed or scheduled as I learned while in San Diego.
The kids’ teacher, Mr. Jackson, had a loose itinerary for the trip, but as he told the parent chaperones several times, “With kids, I find it better not to plan too much. Better to keep it flexible and spontaneous because you never know what will happen.” He smiled. “Plus, it’s better to be able to say, ‘yes’ instead of always saying ‘no.’”
I didn’t think much of it when Mr. Jackson said, “Yes,” to the kids when they asked if we could sit in the Splash Zone during the Orca Show at Sea World. I thought, in my fuzzy, sleep-deprived state, that “splash” meant getting sprinkled on. Needless to say, I was not prepared to receive a full body blow of stinky, fish water. Not once, but twice. Since the kids had positioned our class front and center, we were completely soaked. And since it was an overcast day with temperatures in the mid-sixties, we stayed wet for the rest of the afternoon.
If I had known that we were going to get that wet, I would have said, “No,” to the Splash Zone. I would have wanted to avoid shivering in damp clothes the rest of the day, but, I wouldn’t have had as much fun. I wouldn’t have seen the delight on the kids’ faces when they discovered that Mr. Jackson was the wettest of us all. Nor would I have enjoyed watching other unsuspecting folks later that afternoon at another show scampering up the aisles after receiving their first blast of water in the Splash Zone.
Fun is about spontaneity, and stepping out of the comfort zone into the splash zone. Fun is about saying “yes.”
Number six on Emma’s summer list says “lots of activities.” On a whim I picked up the phone and called my friend Jara. “Stephen is going out of town the weekend after school gets out,” I told her. “The girls and I are going camping. Would you like to go with us? You can say ‘no’ or think about it,” I added quickly.
“Oh, Missy,” said Jara, her voice bright. “That would be SO much fun. Yes! Yes! Yes! Let’s do it! It’s my birthday that weekend so we can have cake for breakfast and donuts for dinner! I can’t wait!”
Parties Aren’t Just About the Cake
It’s too bad my friend Jillene can’t come camping with us, because Jillene loves cake. But what she loves even more than cake is the party that comes with the cake.
“I’m just a party girl,” Jillene tells me, but I know that “party girl” isn’t an accurate description of Jillene. Jillene loves a party, loves to have fun, because she gets what’s important in life. She understands that life is about bringing people together and spending time with those you love. She knows, from experience, that we are all just one diagnosis away from having our lives turned upside down so we’d all better live life well now and appreciate all the blessings that land on our plates, especially when it’s cake.
When Prince William and Kate recently wed, Jillene threw a huge royal tea party. “Save the date,” she told me months in advance. “I want you and the girls to be there!”
I’m sure it will come as no surprise when I confess that I don’t really like parties, but because Jillene is on my list of top ten people I love most in the world, I agreed to come.
Jillene spent weeks planning the menu. She polished up her mother’s fancy china and crystal the days leading up to the event, and worked all morning the day of to set a table that would have impressed the Queen herself. That afternoon, her guests arrived dressed in their finest, all fifteen. It was a royally good time. We sipped tea until we were sure we were going to float away, and then we watched a tape of the Royal Wedding, critiquing hats and o0hing and aahing over Kate’s lovely dress.
On the way home the girls sighed and said, “That was the most fun party ever!”
Not to take away from Jillene’s gala, but that’s the girls’ refrain whenever we leave a party, because my kids, like all kids, love parties. As a matter of fact, kids love any kind of gathering or event, and it doesn’t require days or hours of planning. Put a couple of kids together, add an activity or sweet treat, and you have an impromptu party. You have instant fun.
During our San Diego trip, parties were breaking out left and right. A group of our girls started dancing and singing in the middle of the sidewalk as we waited to go into the Safari Park. In the classroom where the boys slept, there was an air hockey table. Nightly, a clutch of kids gathered around the game table, passing around bags of popcorn and M & Ms while they hollered and laughed and generally had a great time. During the seven-hour car trip, in between videos, the five kids in our car would spontaneously break into song or tell silly stories while they passed around cinnamon gum. Being with those kids was like traveling with a four-day fiesta. And, it was a lot of fun.
In the days following the San Diego trip, we were all still a little high from the experience. Three kids from the trip “friended” me on Facebook. The other parent chaperones and I, who didn’t know each other previous to the trip, exchanged hugs in the parking lot and said we missed each other. One of the eighth grade girls checked to make sure I was coming to her graduation. That is what a good party does. Not only is it fun, but it brings people closer together.
This summer I want to consider the idea of parties. I don’t have to start big like Jillene’s wedding tea. I can instead mimic the spontaneous parties that peppered our San Diego trip. Little celebrations here and there. Little pockets of fun in the day.
Are You Having Fun?
While in San Diego, I found hidden notes in various compartments of my purse and luggage that were left by my youngest daughter Clara who stayed home with her dad. The notes were written on blue-and-white-polka-dotted paper, and each message was different. I found the note she left in my checkbook after I got home. On a thin strip of paper, Clara had written, “Are you having fun?”
I’ve kept Clara’s message in my wallet. I read it several times a day, and it makes me smile. It reminds me of the trip to San Diego. It makes me think of Clara who is a master of fun. I often teasingly complain that Clara has one speed, and that it is nearly impossible to move her along faster than that slow, steady pace. The other day Clara, somewhat huffily, stated, “I like to ENJOY life, MOM.”
Clara is either a reincarnated Buddhist monk or she just gets the crucial life lesson that in order to live life well you have to slow down enough so it stops blurring. You have to stop cramming more in, and instead enjoy what’s right in front of you. You need to slow down enough to have some fun.
In my valiant quest to hold the world together, I am constantly running around at full speed trying to keep our full life in order. I think to myself, “I’ll just do one more chore, and then I’ll stop and relax.” But there’s always one more errand after that one chore, and it seems that I never get to that relaxed state, I never get to the fun.
My friend Barbara once told me wisely, “The housework will always get done somehow, so we need to put the fulfilling activities first.” I’m not a good housekeeper in the best of times, but I can apply Barbara’s point to my life. This summer I want to put fun first, and know that the really important things will get done eventually. I want to slow down, so when I look out the window as I travel through my day, I can actually see the scenery. I want live a bit of each day at Clara’s pace.
Inspired by Emma, I write up my own list of summer rules and post it next to hers on my wall.
- practice RBR posture (smile and laugh frequently)
- say “YES” often (be spontaneous)
- be a party girl (start small)
- slooooooooooooooooow down (prioritize fun)
I read it over and then add one more rule.
5. Check often: Are you having fun?