I am not FUN.

I’m thinking about things that are fun.

This is not something I am proud of or like to admit.  It is not the first thing I tell someone when I meet them or what my name badge says underneath my name.  It is my dirty little secret.  It is this:  I am not fun.  At least, not the commonly accepted notion of fun.

You see, my husband is really fun.  This is what drew me to him, part of the reason I love him and lots of the reason my kids love him.  I remember when I first met him and he had a group of about 6 (really awesome) girls who were his close friends. When we would do things together, they would always tell me how lucky I was to have him because he was SO FUN.  Sometimes he would tease me and tell me I am a “grandma” because I like to:  go to bed early, think deeply, read, go home rather than stay out late and refrain from bodily injury or needlessly embarrassing myself.   Well, I am aware that  America does not idolize people like me, and that being a badass in this culture is considered pretty fucking cool.  I have never been the girl who swung from chandeliers, dropped out of helicopters, recorded a narcissistic video for the admissions committee or rallied the troops for an all-nighter.  Yeah, no.  But I used to wish that I was more like that.  There are even websites dedicated to teaching you how to be more fun.  How sad for all those kids (and grown-ups even) out there who are constantly pushed to be someone they are not.

I adore my friends who are fun.  They love to party, stay out late, host huge soirees, do adventure races and create elaborate competitions and festivals.  I have so much fun hanging out with them and being with them because they are FUN.  My 8 year old daughter is FUN.  She loves fun, dreams about fun, thinks about fun and engages in FUN.  Her every day is in pursuit of FUN.  When my husband is away, my eleven year old tells me, “Things are fine when dad is away, just not as fun.”

Very coincidentally, Gretchen Rubin wrote about this today on her blog for the Huffington Post.  She states emphatically  that just because something is fun for other people does not mean it is fun for you.  She cites examples of things that are fun for other people but are simply not fun for her such as cooking, drinking wine, shopping and skiing.  And that she finds it really hard sometimes to be “just Gretchen” and be true to the things that she really enjoys doing.  Some examples of things that others find fun but I don’t:

Sledding:  I love sledding when it’s just my family but when there are other kids around I worry about things like head injuries and lawsuits.

Drinking until ridiculously drunk:  Never something you look back on as a highlight of your life, it’s usually when you do something really stupid.

Kid games:  Being dyslexic,  learning new games is painfully difficult for me.  Those page-long instructions are torture.  But I love charades, Apples to Apples, I Spy and other simple games.

Team Building Exercises or Competitive Team Building Exercises:  People get crazy and ruthless and all Mad Max and shit.  Really?

Video games:  Don’t really get it.  Especially if they are violent and bloody: yikes.

After reading Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,”  I realized that it is perfectly okay to be the way I am after spending a lot of time wishing I were more fun.  That I could somehow force myself to be the life of the party.  That I could be the “fun” parent.  But you know what?  It’s okay.  My kids are lucky to have parents who are different and provide alternate ways to be in the world.  My husband has a confidante who thinks deeply about all kinds of issues.  And my wonderful friends, of all stripes, I get to enjoy and bask in their uniqueness.  Things I find fun and recharging, (which Susan Cain calls “sweet spots”)  include reading a great book, spending time with people I love over a glass of wine, shared laughs with small groups of friends, watching my kids play with abandon, going for a run with my dog, a bike ride with my husband, writing a good story, snowshoeing in silent whiteness, the irreverence and joy of people who are not like me and happy hour with my husband.

I know, crazy-wild shit like that.

You know what?  I am changing the title of this post to “I am Fun.”  My own kind of fun.  Fun is not universal:  We don’t all like the same foods or movies or whatever.  Why should we all think the same things are fun?

What’s fun for you?

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Being true to myself in the ‘burbs.

“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” – Benjamin Franklin

Photos courtesy of Barbara Paulsen of Mt. Hood MaMa Iphoneography.  Her photos are incredibly fun.

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Just Don’t Try to Cheer Me Up!

Sometimes in life, you have to step on a crack.

I found myself getting all “rah-rah” with my daughter the other day.  She had a really crumby day at school and, feeling her sadness as acutely as if it were happening to me, I tried to quickly talk her out of it.  I gave her all the lines, you know the ones:  “Look on the bright side!”, “Think about what a great day you had yesterday!”, and the perennial favorite “Turn that frown upside down!”  Yuck.  Even I was repelled by myself.   She finally looked at me with her big spoon-like eyes and said, “Mom, just don’t try to cheer me up.”  Stopping suddenly in my tracks, I realized that I was doing what was best for me, not for her.  I was so uncomfortable with her emotional state, that I tried to shake her out of it. I wasn’t accepting the truth of how she was really feeling, and to her that felt like rejection.  I am noticing it all the time now, like at the coffee shop when  a friend tells another stressed friend to “stay positive” and “don’t let yourself get depressed.”   While well-meaning and heartfelt, maybe what your friend really needs to hear is “that fucking sucks.”

In our brains, we are biased to being an optimist or a pessimist on a structural and chemical level.  You know, you’ve taken the tests of which one you are.  (If not, try this one.)  There is an area of your brain called the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) which lights up on brain scans when thinking optimistic thoughts, while seeming to malfunction in people who had depression.  Funny though, we are all hard wired toward optimism.  Yes, even the teen you see walking to high school every day wearing full black, wrist cuffs, head-down/hood-up and hair dyed orange.  It’s called optimism bias, and it means we tend toward the rosier side when thinking about our own futures even smack in the face of that little thing called reality.  Statistically, people radically overestimate their own odds of getting divorced,  getting fired, having a child who is above average and how long they will live.  So maybe all this super-positive-ness has some neurobiological roots.

In any event, some of us are just cheerier or more gloomy than others.  So be it.  Tending to fall more into the realist category, I am somewhere between an optimist and a pessimist.  More like a “defensive pessimist” as Julie K. Norem of Wellesley College describes us.  We tend to set a lower bar, think about things that might go wrong (note: not obsess) and mount a defense based on our skilled breakdown of what may actually happen.  This can actually help you turn some of that hand-wringing into a plan of action.  Like writing a list of pros and cons.  Or eating a pint of ice cream.  Or writing a blog.

So what to do when someone tries to cheer you up, or when you find yourself being the cheerleader (check out this awesome video of the Onion, and how the FDA has found a drug to cure the “excessively perky”)?  Take a step back and figure out if your counsel is working for you, or for the person you are supposedly trying to help.  I love this quote from writer Augusten Burroughs (who wrote the book “This is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More.  For Young and Old Alike” in case you didn’t know he was awesome):

Truthfulness itself is almost medicinal, even when it’s served without advice or insight.  Just hearing true words spoken out loud provides relief.  

And so, remembering how I feel about truth, I just told my daughter, “it sounds like you had a bad day.”  And then made a plan for the next day.  And then we snuggled up and read a book together.  And we both felt better.

photo credit:  Barbara Paulsen