F is for Fun

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

pack muleI almost didn’t want to write about this topic. It seems so “master of the obvious” to suggest one should have fun to combat or prevent stress. But then I realized I need to write this post for myself because, obvious or not, I missed the memo.

A few days ago I mentioned that I tend to cut out eating and sleeping to keep myself on schedule. That’s true. I eat standing up while teaching or in the car driving or in any other way that prevents me from “wasting” time on something so trivial as food consumption. If I can’t multitask my breakfast or lunch, I probably just cut it out all together. As far as sleep goes – I simply don’t allow myself the opportunity to rest or nap, no matter how exhausted I am, because I simply can’t afford to be so unproductive.

But you know what got thrown out the window long before eating and sleeping? Fun. I rarely give myself the privilege to just let go and have fun. But that’s absurd! Fun is not a privilege. Fun is a part of life. We are supposed to have fun and enjoy life. Responsibility is well and good, but it is not all there is. Responsibility should be tempered by privilege. Work should be tempered by leisure. They are two sides of the same scale. Life is made of both. Sadly, my scale is freakishly unbalanced, and it has been for a long time. It’s no wonder I’m so stressed out.

Fun is not optional, and I’m going to stop treating in as such. As I work to create better boundaries in my life, I’m going to ensure that fun is always on the agenda. I’m not saying I’m going to throw all productivity out the window, but I am definitely going to be reevaluating just how much “productivity” is actually required to have a productive day. In fact, having fun is productive in it’s own way because it keeps me emotionally and physically balanced.

I firmly believe that kids deserve to have fun every day. That’s one of the reasons we homeschool. I want my kids to have a childhood and to enjoy it to the fullest. I don’t know how I missed the obvious correlation that adults need fun too. I haven’t grown out of my need to have fun – that’s not part of human development. So I’m going to start having more of it.

Honestly, choosing to not have fun is an affront against my human dignity. If I just stay busy, busy, busy, and never stop to enjoy, have fun, and see beauty, I’ve reduced myself to some kind of labor animal. I’ve made myself a pack mule. I am not a mule, and I’m going to stop treating myself like one.

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The Gift of Dinner at Joe’s

Having lunch at a pizza place in Chattanooga, TN.

Having lunch at a pizza place in Chattanooga, TN. 10/23/13

Usually, when I write about life with a “big” family,* I’m complaining. Not because I don’t like my “big” family, but because of the way my “big” family and I get treated when we’re out in public. This weekend, however, we had an absolutely wonderful experience, so I thought I’d switch things up a bit and tell you about that.

Friday night, we decided to take the kids out to dinner. We went to Joe’s Crab Shack, which, if you’ve never been, is very family friendly. It’s a bright, loud place with trash buckets and paper towels on the tables (intended for the crab eaters, but super useful for spills and other kid messes) and a playground outside. The kids were pretty tired from coop and a full day of other activities, so I figured Joe’s was a safe bet. If they decided to misbehave, I figured it would be less noticeable in a place like that.

As we approached the hostess stand, the manager walked over from nearby and asked, “Oh wow. Are they all yours?”

Josh: “Sure are!”

Him: “I just don’t know how you do it…”

Me: “With lots of craziness and fun.”

Him: “I have a 2 year old and that’s more than I can take.”

(I never know where to go from here. I can totally relate. 1 kid is super hard. 2-years-old is super hard. But how do I briefly articulate that with sincerity and compassion without being incredibly awkward? I find that when I try people do another headcount of my kids and react like I must be patronizing them. I’m not. I really feel for them. Simcha Fisher once wrote a piece that describes what I mean. But it seems like a bit too much to say as I’m walking away from the hostess stand…)

As we walked to the table we got the looks we normally get. Internally, I shook my head. Externally, I smiled, held my head high, and hoped I could get everyone seated and settled without making a scene. (You mothers know what I’m talking about: But, mom, I want to sit over there! He took my crayons! Why didn’t I get a blue one?? Where’s my silverware?? I want to keep my knife!)

The boys after a lunch date at Chick-fil-a in December. (Guess no one was really ready for the camera?)

The boys after a lunch date at Chick-fil-a last December. (Guess no one was really ready for the camera?)

Amazingly, there was no scene. We did play a small round of musical chairs with Ben, but it was mostly calm and quiet. The big boys sat exactly where we put them and didn’t complain. They unfolded their menus and began talking about what to order.

Incredibly, the rest of the meal went off without a hitch. All the boys ordered for themselves, used their manners, spoke clearly and respectfully to the server, etc. We had a lovely time! Even Leila sat in her high chair the entire time, which is somewhat unlike her when we are in public. She’s a bit clingy and likes to be held when she’s in an unfamiliar environment.**

Somewhere about midway through dinner, I realized all the servers kept walking by our table and looking at us. But not with a look that I was used to receiving. I wasn’t sure what was going on. After it happened a few more times, I was starting to feel a bit like we were in a fish bowl. Towards the end of our meal, the bartender came over. He said, “While you’re here, do you want to give a few lessons to some of the other parents sitting around you?” I just laughed awkwardly. Then, he looked at my boys, told them how awesome they were, and went back to work.

On the way out, the manager made an effort to get over to us again before we passed the hostess stand. He thanked us for coming and told us they looked forward to serving us again. I know this is the kind of thing managers say. But there was something about his tone and body language. He really seemed grateful to have met us that night.

I walked out feeling simply overjoyed. Not just because my kids were well behaved. Not just because we were complimented. Not just because no one said or did anything negative to us. I felt like, somehow, we made a difference that night. I felt like, somehow, the staff that encountered us saw the beauty and the joy of family life. Somehow, for that short hour or two that we were there, children and parenting didn’t seem like such a burden to those people. Somehow, we were able to convey that message.

I don’t know how we did it. We didn’t do anything differently than we usually do when we are in public. I guess we were just in the right place at the right time. But I really believe that our little family made the world a better place for that short window of time. And, maybe, just maybe, had a big enough impact that someone who saw us was willing to change their view of children and/or family life. I realize this may all sound like a stretch, but that’s truly how I felt leaving the restaurant that evening. It was almost magical. Unfortunately, I just don’t know how to better explain it. It was simply the most positive, uplifting experience I have ever had with a bunch of random strangers that I will likely never see again. They gave me such a gift in affirming the dignity of my family, and I really believe that we, somehow, gave them a gift too.

                                                                                   

* I still don’t think I have a big family. I’ve admitted before that I am aware that we are larger than average, but we just don’t feel big to me. In fact, when we’re missing even just one of the kids, we feel so incredibly small. Maybe my perception just adjusts with each child? I don’t know. All I know is I don’t feel like I have a big family.

**Behaving in the restaurant in and of itself isn’t that big of a deal. The majority of the time, they do. We have high expectations for behavior in public, which we clearly communicate to the children, along with the consequences that will follow misbehavior. Moreover, we make them behave appropriately every night at dinner, which helps tremendously. They are already used to behaving at the table. I was concerned about behavior on this particular night because they had a long day and tired kids doesn’t usually equal well behaved and/or “rational” kids.

Beauty Wins Out

I realize I’ve already been on my human dignity soapbox once today, but I just can’t help myself. And, truthfully, I don’t feel that bad about it either. After all, what cause is greater than defending the dignity of the human person? Unfortunately, this observation comes to late to do anything about it, other than make a point. Lowe’s was doing an online vote to help distribute $1 million to charities. Each charity got $100,000 for participating and the remaining $400,000 is to be distributed proportionately based on the number of votes it got. The four charities selected were: Keep America Beautiful, American Forests, the National Park Foundation, and Water.org. Obviously, all are worthy causes, but some causes should be worth more than others. Only one of the four charities selected directly benefits the human person. As you can probably guess from the name, Water.org strives to bring clean drinking water and proper sanitation to those who don’t have access to it. A hugely important cause.

The official results of Lowe’s charitable giving campaign won’t be out until Saturday, but, after I voted, I could see that Water.org had only received about 9% of the vote. The landslide winner, from the “unofficial” pie chart displayed to me, was the National Park Foundation. Seriously?? We’d rather see huge sums of money spent on maintaining public parks than providing the most basic and necessary resource to people around the world? I just don’t understand that. I just don’t understand what’s wrong with us as a society. I just don’t understand how we can value pretty spaces to go on vacation above someone else’s most basic needs. I just don’t understand. And I don’t want to. I hope I never value my vacation and pretty views more than human life.

Women in Africa travel for miles each day, a journey that is both dangerous and debilitating, to collect water for their families.

For Better or For Worse

I was recently asked why I don’t write more about my marriage. Not just the daily happenings that I sometimes discuss, but the nitty-gritty details. My questioner speculated that it would make for good reading. I’m sure it would. But I don’t write about my marriage for the same reason I don’t talk about some aspects of my marriage, even to my closest friends. My marriage deserves more than that.

In a recent post, “Is Being Family Enough?”, I briefly touched on the special kind of dignity that comes with being “family.” I think that dignity is far surpassed by the dignity of marriage. On my wedding day I stood before my family, friends, and God, committing my life to Josh under all circumstances: for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, for richer or for poorer. My, oh my. We don’t know what we’re saying on that glorious day, do we? After all, how bad can bad be? How poor can poor be? How worse can worse be? How sick can sick be? We may think we know, but we don’t have a clue what those words really mean. I think that’s the beauty of it. On one’s wedding day, one finds oneself so very in love that one is willing to commit to stand by the another, even in the most unimaginable of circumstances.

Fast forward a few years.

I’m not perfect. My husband’s not perfect. Our marriage is not perfect. We are two imperfect people charged with living together and given the added responsibility of managing a household and raising a family. Are there ugly moments? You know as well as I do that there are many. Do those “moments” sometimes stretch past the end of the day and spill over into other days? Of course they do. So why don’t I talk about them, vent about them, or share whatever struggles we’re currently facing? I think doing so violates the dignity of our marriage. Even if my sole intention is just to get something off my chest, that’s not how it works. Whether my audience is an anonymous internet audience, my mother, my sister, my best friend, or a stranger at the park, if my words belittle Josh, they belittle my marriage. If they belittle my marriage, they belittle Josh. Marriage is hard enough without one or both of the spouses slowly tearing it apart to anyone who will listen.

I’m not suggesting that it’s healthy to keep your emotions bottled up inside. But I think struggles of this nature ought to be shared only with your spouse or your private journal. (Not barring a marital counselor or your confessor, if the situation applies.) Or (as should be the case in my marriage much more often than I do) first with my journal to filter out some of the unnecessary and potentially damaging words, then with my husband to attempt to build a bridge over, around or under the situation. Josh has it much worse than I do when it comes to bearing the brunt of our arguments. My knack for sarcasm often results in some pretty cutting comments, which is why I should work harder to filter out some of the emotion in my journal, so he and I can deal with facts.

While I obviously don’t know this from experience yet, I think I may have discovered the secret behind the 80-year-old couple sitting on the park bench, having been married for the past 60 years, and still very much in love. Mutual respect. They’ve seen each other at their very worst, their very best, and everywhere in between. The same is true for anyone in a marriage, but I think their secret is how they respond to and recover from those situations.

I recently heard someone say that the opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s self-love. After pondering those words for a few moments, I decided truer words have never been spoken. While “hate” isn’t comfortable, and it’s definitely not something you want to be part of your marriage, that’s not what will ultimately do it in. Self-love, on the other hand, especially when greater than the love you have for your spouse, will.

This is what is at the root of the saying that a successful marriage can’t be 50/50, rather it must be 100/100. Both partners must make every effort to give 100% of themselves. Yet, both partners must be be willing to give 110%, 150%, or 190% when, for one reason or another, the other is only capable of giving 90%, 50%, or 10%. Remember those scary vows? This is where they come in. We promised that we would do this, did we mean what we said?

If either or both spouses are more concerned with their own needs, their own desires, their own dreams, goals and aspirations, than those of the other, the marriage just won’t work. To make marriage a real, true, lifelong commitment, we have to look past ourselves and only see the other. How scary that can be sometimes! That’s why trust is so crucial. One has to be able to trust their spouse enough to be totally vulnerable. One has to be able to totally trust that their self-sacrificing love will be reciprocated. That’s what makes a marriage work. Not just work, but land two 80-year-old people on a park bench, 60 years after making vows that they really didn’t understand, sitting happily just because each is with the other.