Parents Just Want to Have Fun. So Why are We So Boring?

Look at us -- out alone, at night, in  Manhattan!

Look at us — out alone, at night, in Manhattan!

We sat at the small Italian restaurant in Bay Ridge. It was just the two of us. No kids. No husbands. We flirted with the waiter and when we realized we were running late, connived getting wine in to-go cups.

We giggled over this, like two teen-agers who just stole beer from their parents fridge. I know I reminded Tracy several times that I am a genius, because what other 40-year-old mom would think of smuggling booze out of a restaurant in a plastic-covered coffee cup? It felt scandalous. It felt ridiculous. It felt wildly… what was this feeling I was having? What was this gurgling of excitement in my chest that had nothing to do with the fear a child will fall off the monkey bars or that I won’t make it to softball practice on time?

Could it be that I was having fun?

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to a family wedding. The invitation read “adult reception” and I whooped, hooted and hollered. A night out with my husband! With dancing! Great food! Cocktails! And dancing! And noooooo kids to remind to eat their dinner, take to the bathroom or listen whine about being tired.

We walked into the cocktail hour, both looking fabulous I will say without apology, and began to work the room. My husband Sid and I really know  how to own a cocktail hour. We weaved among the revelers, feeling like the ultimate power couple, finishing each other’s sentences and laughing as we told stories of our ridiculous lives. We brought drinks to people before they asked for them. I introduced my sister-in-law to the cosmopolitan.

I love cocktail hour. It’s one of the best parts of the wedding. I told my husband. And then I felt it again: Fun!

Later that night we were pretty much irrepressible. I had warned people in advance that Sid and I don’t get out much and so when we do, we’re like convicts on weekend furlough. On the dance floor, Sid and I have moves that are all our own. When he wasn’t around, I danced with whoever else was on the dance floor. Who cared?! I was having fun! And so was everyone around me.

The next day (and for many days after) Sid and I kept hearing from others at the wedding how “it looked like you guys really had a good time.” Uh-oh. What did we do? Even the bride called us “the couple of the night.” Um, no. The open bar definitely left some holes in our memory banks but neither of us could remember doing anything terribly embarrassing or offensive. But that’s not what people were saying anyway — everyone was commenting about how we looked like we were having the time of our lives.

Recently someone told me that she worried that because her kids never see her having fun, they’ll grow up into adults who don’t know how to have fun. This made me realize that one of the gifts my parents gave me was the glimpse into the world of grown-ups having fun. They drank too much, laughed, danced, did many wild things, and I witnessed much of it. They taught me that no one is responsible for your good time — if you want to have fun, you make your own fun. But somewhere between diaper changes and school science projects, I forgot about that.

Why is the concept of parents embracing reckless abandon unique enough that people noticed it so intently? I woke up the morning after that wedding suspecting to be swearing off all fermented beverages forever, for good. But instead, I felt fabulous. The happiness from the night before seeped into the next day. All that stress that I’d been holding in had dissolved in one night of just letting myself go. It felt remarkably freeing, this license I gave myself to just let go and have fun.

Which got me thinking: When did we stop having fun? The answer was obvious.

Exactly 10 years ago, I was pregnant with my first child. And that’s when it began — this wave of exhaustion that dictates most recreational decisions I’ve made since. If we get a babysitter, we have her come at around 5 so that we can be home by 9 the latest. When the kids were babies, you never knew whether you’d have a good night or a bad night so why risk staying out late? Sleep was our priority. Nowadays, I feel like we’re still catching up on all the sleep we’ve lost over the last decade. We dine at the geriatric hour and when the sun goes down, we reach for our blankets.

So going out on a Saturday night with Tracy, seeing the city alive at an hour when I’m usually drooling on the pillow; dancing at a wedding until my feet begged for mercy — I realized I needed to embrace fun as much as I needed to cure my constant exhaustion. Those brief reminders of what it was to be young, stretch-mark free and slightly devilish help me shed stress in ways that sleep, yoga, exercise, eating right — all the things you’re told to do to keep your body healthy — could not accomplish. I needed to truly let go.

I’m now on a “fun” kick. I’ve made going to the gym a priority, and that has vastly improved my physical body. Now I want to make having fun a priority as a way to reward my overworked soul.

Problem is, it’s been so long that I don’t really know how to do this. So friends of mine, let’s make plans to have fun. Not just “let’s meet for dinner” and talk about the 40s malaise. Let’s go experience life — theater, art, music — and do things — hike, bike, dance, sing. Getting to fun isn’t a logical default for me anymore so I could use some help. What ideas do you have for having fun?

What do you think?

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