Fun? Define "Fun"…

My husband Matt and I are trying hard to make sure that parenthood doesn’t turn us into complete losers. We had a very active social life back in the St. Louis area, where we met and got married. We had a great group of friends on both sides of the Mississippi and were constantly involved in something, whether it was floating on a friend’s pontoon with a cooler of beer, meeting up with our trivia team, “The Cream Puff Party”, every Thursday night, or getting together with other couples for “Wine and Cheese Club”, which turned into “Scotch and Cigar Club” for the boys. We were spontaneous: if it was a gorgeous afternoon and we felt like driving up the River Road to spend it at a winery overlooking the Mississippi, well, school work and studying could wait.

Clearly, that all changed when we had a baby.

“Fun” doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to. Even if I could “spontaneously” get a babysitter, I wouldn’t want to stay out late, because my daughter gets up at 6:00 every morning, no matter what. I wouldn’t want to   get drunk, because a lot of times someone has to drive that sitter home. And even if she could drive herself, my daughter gets up at 6 A.M. Every. Morning.

Cramming myself into a small Syracuse
shirt was probably not the best idea

Recently, Matt and I went to see the NCAA Final Four. A year ago, we were sitting on the couch watching the tournament and saw that the 2013 final round would be held in Atlanta, only two hours away. We said to each other, “Hey, that would be fun,” and entered our names into a lottery for tickets. By the time we found out we were going, I was pregnant and we had basically completely forgotten about the lottery. Still, it was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity. And it did sound fun. So, Maggie went to spend the night with her grandparents and Matt and I headed down to Atlanta to check out some free concerts taking place near the Georgia Dome before the main event got started. Whereas a few years ago we would have been right up in the crowd drinking $8.00 Bud Lights, we stood toward the back with our bottles of water and bopped along to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis before deciding that it was getting too hot out to stick around for Ludacris. Besides, all that standing up was making me sleepy.

The bottom line is, the Final Four was a nice experience. Despite the crowds, and the insane lines for food, and the nosebleed seats, and the obnoxious older couple sitting behind us, and the fact that Syracuse lost, and the long drive home after midnight, I was still glad that we had done something together for ourselves. But fun? Like we used to have? Not exactly.

A few days after the Final Four, still exhausted from the whole experience, Matt had a meeting after work and I was too tired to cook a real dinner, so Maggie and I settled for quesadillas and an ice cream cone on the back deck. As she ran around chasing bumblebees in her diaper, with pink ice cream rivers coursing down her little arms, and we basked in the beautiful warm evening until Matt got home, I realized that this is what fun has become. My daughter reminds me that fun used to be a lot simpler and more joyful than what I’ve been missing.

This is the face she made when I asked her to “look happy”

I could stop here, with that message: appreciate the fun times that your children give you, because if you spend your time wishing for the old times then you’ll miss the happiness that’s right in front of you. It’s a lovely message, but the fact is that a lot of parenthood isn’t fun at all. Am I having fun when my daughter is pulling shoeboxes off the shelves at Kohls while I’m attempting to buy one thing for myself? No. How about when she is kicking and biting me because I told her that she can’t watch another episode of Sesame Street? Nope. Is it fun when, after a day surrounded by 7th-graders, completely worn out and brain dead from their questions, with a bag full of grading that I’d like to get done in order to avoid more of the same questions tomorrow, I pick Maggie up from daycare only to find that she is just as cranky as I am? Negative. Is vomit in the car seat fun? What about worrying about her ALL the time? Is that fun?

No, a lot of parenting is just really, really hard. Earlier this week, I heard an interview from the CEO of the Life is Good Corporation in which he said, “Our motto isn’t ‘Life is Easy’.” It’s true, life, especially as a parent, isn’t easy. But when I think about my daughter, or describe her to others, she’s not a burden or a stumbling block. She makes me laugh or smile 100 times a day. She’s this bright, wonderful gift, and I can’t imagine ever going back to my life before her (obviously, because I’m about to do this all over again).

I sure hope to again have the kind of spontaneous fun that made my husband and I who we were when we met and fell in love. For now, I guess I’ll keep working my butt off to raise a child responsible enough to trust at home while we go party it up somewhere in Europe- and I’ll try to have a little fun while I’m at it.

The Way Things Change

I feel a little more sane since my last post. Part of that was the therapy of writing about it, part of it the amazing and heartfelt comments, and a lot of it is the fact that this week is spring break. For me, this is a week to actually pull my weight around the house. I can clean. I can cook. I can check things off of my mile-long to-do list. I can meet my husband for lunch, and after dinner we can have a conversation without a half-graded stack of papers between us. It’s not exactly a relaxing week, even when I drop Maggie off at daycare for a few hours, but sometimes a sense of accomplishment is so much more satisfying. (Though I have to admit, I’ll be disappointed if I can’t fit a pedicure in somewhere.)

However, this post isn’t meant to be about spring break. It’s supposed to be about family- not the one I’ve chosen to build with Matt, Maggie, and the new baby, but the one I didn’t choose- the one I was born into. You see, this past weekend we took a quick trip to see my sisters, brother-in-law, and nephew in Brooklyn. My parents also arranged to drive down from upstate New York, so we were all together again- seven adults and two children happy and cozy in a 900 (or so) square-foot apartment.

Cousin bath time!
(Taking advantage while it lasts)
These get-togethers are becoming more and more precious. In fact, with a ten to thirteen-hour drive between us, we are lucky to see each other as often as we do. It helps that my sisters, father and I are all educators, so we can count on regular breaks for travel time. But even as having children makes it more difficult to make the trip, it also makes it that much more important for Maggie to see and get to know her family.

There’s a song by The Head and the Heart called “Rivers and Roads”, and one of the lyrics has really been hitting me lately. It says: “Been talkin’ bout the way things change/My family lives in a different state.” I grew up within twenty miles of both sets of grandparents and the vast majority of my 8,000 cousins (a slight exaggeration…it could be more like 6,732). My husband had a totally different experience. His parents met in college and chose to settle down in Illinois because it was a mid-point between their two families, who were located in Iowa and Indiana. Because he knew what it was like growing up with no family nearby, we thought quite a bit about where to set up a home and raise a family. As much as we loved St. Louis, where we met, it simply wasn’t an option. Family was the number one priority, so it was decided: we were going to upstate New York or following his parents to South Carolina, where they had built a house and would retire. When we found out that Matt’s dental license transferred to South Carolina with no additional tests or residencies, that was it. We were moving south.

I feel confident that we made the right decision. Everything has fallen into place here in Anderson. We are about a 35-minute drive from both Matt’s parents and his sister, who moved here last year to be closer to us. That means built-in babysitters (not a privilege to be abused, for sure) and family holidays that we don’t need to pack for. Matt’s dental practice couldn’t have been a better fit, and he has quickly become a familiar name around town because of his involvement in church, Rotary, and numerous other volunteer organizations. I FINALLY got a teaching job close to home, at an amazing arts magnet school. We love our house, our neighborhood, and our church, where we have made many friends that we will have for life.

Rare time with two grandmas

There’s only one thing missing, and that is my dear family. It doesn’t matter that I’ll be turning thirty this year, or that I have my own family now. I want my parents to be close enough to drop in just because (but not so close that they’ll never leave…) and for Maggie to be able to call her cousin Howie to come over for a swim. I want to have a glass of wine with my sisters on the back porch while the kids chase fireflies. It’s a selfish desire, because while I want Maggie and Baby #2 to be surrounded by all that love and joy, I know that they already are. They have one set of grandparents, a doting aunt, and their mommy and
daddy, who clearly worship them, right here at their fingertips. Plus, at two and a half, it’s impressive how well Maggie already knows her “New York” family. We Google Chat and Face Time frequently, and she loves looking at pictures from the holidays and trips we have taken together.

My mom is just barely holding
it together before she has to
get in the car and leave.
Whether we are reverting to our childhood selves back at my parents’ house, walking the kids to the park in Brooklyn, watching Maggie and Howie dance around my living room, or catching up on the phone for five minutes in between school, subways, and daycare pickup, my family makes me feel a little bit more like myself. (A side note: I also have them to thank for my husband’s sudden change of heart about how many kids to have. Apparently, he likes how chaotic my family is wants to replicate that in our household. Good luck to future us, and stay tuned for how Baby #2 changes that opinion!) I guess all I can do is keep badgering my parents about moving down here for retirement and sending my sisters pictures of what their rent/mortgage could get them in South Carolina. Besides, who needs New York City culture when you can have Sonic and Chick-fil-a?