I used to be fun. I was naked underneath my high school graduation gown. I have skinny dipped in the ocean in December. I’ve been skydiving. I’ve jumped on a mattress in a mattress store. I have scheduled a 24 hour trip to Madrid and intentionally forgone a hotel reservation because surely I would just dance all night anyways. I was a summer camp counselor, for crying out loud. I was practically a Cameron Diaz movie.
Even when I was fun, I’ve always been a bit type A. I love a good to-do list. I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes from carefully considering everything that needs to get done, and crafting a plan – a schedule! – that gets it all done as efficiently as possible.
Then I had kids. And lucky/unlucky for me, having kids gave me lots of opportunities to be productive, to be efficient. It’s no secret that raising kids takes a lot of work, and it was easy for me to tackle that work head-on. A checklist every day, freezer cooking every week, a sleep schedule every night. Check, check, check.
I was as productive as I’ve ever been. And I was miserable. So miserable that I eventually went to a counselor. I went back to work part time. I lost the last of the baby weight. I started doing hot yoga again. We drafted a better budget and started sticking to it. I felt better.
I recently saw an old friend that I’ve known since birth – he’s like a cousin, really – at the annual gathering that is pretty much the only time I see him now. He’s single and free-spirited and has traveled the world and gotten into Brazilian dance-fighting while I’ve been getting married and building my career and having kids. Our lives exist in two completely separate worlds now, but the longevity and the rareness of our friendship still connects us, ever so faintly.
“I want you to play with me,” he requested while we lounged by the campfire one night.
I knew what he meant – he wasn’t being inappropriate, he was simply inviting me into his carefree world for a moment, or at least asking me to meet him halfway. I didn’t respond, because frankly, I had no idea how to. My kids and their little friends were playing all around us, tumbling over our laps and shoulders and generally acting like the crazy people that they are. Our friends and our dads were playing guitars and singing songs about open roads and beautiful women. We had drinks in our hands, and nowhere else to be. If ever there was a time and a place to play, this was it. But I simply didn’t know how to.
I felt myself stiffen as I searched for a reason to dismiss him entirely. Easy for you to say, all you do is play. I have things to do. I have to keep an eye on these kids – make sure they get fed and get to sleep, that they don’t get sunburned or lose their lovies. You’re probably just asking me so you can watch me squirm, anyways. What adult says “play?”
I hated myself for freezing up. I felt like my friend had seen me for who I really am, that he had seen the fun part of me that he used to know, that was buried so deep inside now, and invited her out. But I didn’t know the way out. I didn’t know how to shake off the responsible, productive version of myself and just play.
It was a revelation. A painful revelation. One that I didn’t let myself really acknowledge for a while because every time I started to think it through I felt hot tears threaten to burst out.
I have forgotten how to play. I’m not talking about playing with my kids, I’m talking about letting my own spirit play. Choosing my own joy over the to-do list. Abandoning the plan. Coming undone.
So now I’m on a journey to find my fun again. To learn how to play again. I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I know that to be my best, to be my truest and most complete self, I can’t pretend that a checklist of budgeting and hot yoga will make me whole. It might help, but it will ultimately fall short.
I have to make room in my life for all the parts of me, and nurture them all. Even the skinnydipper.
Especially the skinnydipper.
Help me. Join me.
Written by Anna Quinlan