“Daddy’s the fun one. You’re not fun.”
Words from the sweet voice of the little girl who I loved most in the world sliced through me and immediately raised my defenses.
“What do you mean?” I snapped. I gestured to the enchantingly green forest we were surrounded by, under the tallest trees we had ever seen, in the Olympic National Park. “Who do you think plans all this fun? You’re not spending a week camping in the woods and eating s’mores around a campfire because of Dad. I’m the one who makes this all happen.”
My diatribe continued in my head as my daughter ran off to scoot around the campground. Who do you think makes the campground reservations, buys the sleeping bags and shops for the meals? Who do you think remembered to pack your scooter and helmet? This week on vacation would not be fun without the hours that I spent making reservations, making lists of gear and equipment and planning. Didn't she see the fun that I made possible? What did she mean I wasn’t fun?
After stomping around the campsite in a huff, I finally settled down with a book. I looked up to see my husband and children playing hide and seek in the woods. They jumped out to ‘scare’ each other, before wrapping their arms up in bear hugs. Their shrieking and laughing filled the forest. I wanted to shush them, to warn them about disturbing the other campers, but, for once, I didn’t.
That night, after my husband had washed the dishes and I put the kids to bed, I watched the campfire and thought about what my daughter said. Had I really lost my fun? Somewhere in the to-dos and needs, I had forgotten to write ‘have fun’ on my endless lists. I got so caught up in the planning that I forgot about the doing.
Or was it something more? Having fun meant putting myself out there—to risk being seen, judged and possibly fail. Perhaps my to-do lists weren’t an excuse, they were a shield. I could plan and control reservations and planning. Fun, the spontaneous, active, belly-laughing kind that my daughter was talking about, couldn’t be controlled. It was loud, messy and exposed. It was safer to be the planner on the sides rather than the player in the ring.
What was I teaching my kids? Were they learning that it was the mother’s job to sit on the side and watch the fun rather than do it? I would never want them to sit on the sidelines because they were afraid of playing the game. Why was I so quick to relegate myself to that role?
The next day was beautiful and unseasonably hot on the Olympic Peninsula. We went to Lake Pleasant, a glacial-fed lake nestled between green mountains jutting skyward. It could have been a picture of the Alps, except that it was 90 degrees and perfect swimming weather.
My internal campfire dialogue was still fresh in my mind, and I was determined to have fun today.
I walked along the lake in my swimsuit, quieting the voice in my head that told me not to show my thighs. I built a rock castle with my son instead of sitting in the shade (after I applied a layer of sunscreen to everyone). I got in the water with my kids. The cold water made me shriek and my son encouraged me with “you’ll get used to it.” My children splashed me and I splashed back, our laughter skimming over the lake. Was this paradise? It was close.
“I bet you can’t swim to the barrier,” my son taunted my daughter. He gestured to a buoy floating about 30 feet from shore. “It has to be ten-hundred feet deep.”
“I could,” she replied nonchalantly. “But I don’t want to. Besides, there’s probably big fish that would eat my toes.”
I wondered what it would be like to float gently along with the buoy, an unknown expanse of water below me, mountains surrounding me and sky stretching above. I couldn’t imagine anything so peaceful.
Swimming out that far would mean getting my hair wet. The water would be even colder. I used to be a strong swimmer, but what if I wasn’t anymore. I might flail around and look silly to the people on shore. I might be laughed at. There were so many reasons not to swim out past the shore.
I launched off, pulling the water with my arms and kicking hard. I swam past the kids, past where I could touch, to where the swells got a few inches higher and the water was darker and colder. My legs started to burn a bit from the exertion and I swallowed and spit out lake water. I waved back to shore when I touched the foam buoy. My kids waved back, leaping and tossing out of the water like a cheering squad of baby dolphins.
Floating on my back, my ears filled with undulating water and my eyes lingering on bits of snow dotting the tops of the mountains, I was weightless. There were no lists, no to-dos and no judgement out there. There was a deep lake and me floating on it.
“Momma,” my daughter gasped breathlessly when I got back. “You swam all the way out! You touched the buoy! I can’t believe how far that it is!”
We squirted our hands with sanitizer and ate the lunch that I packed. Wrapped in a towel and wearing a sensible sun hat, I was happy. I had not just sat on the shore, I had jumped in. And it was fun.
Guest post written by Heather McPherson. Heather lives, writes, works and raises children in sunny Bend, Oregon. Her 6-year-old son says that her superpowers are cooking and comforting. Her 9-year-old daughter says that if Heather was a flavor she would be sweet and sour. That pretty much sums it up. In her free time, she enjoys long books, short hikes, expensive pastries, and cheap wine. You can read more of her writing at www.heather-mcpherson-writing.net.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.