Maybe it’s all the sunshine, laughs with friends and frozen boozy beverages that summer 2017 has bestowed upon me, but I’m feeling more optimistic these days. I was in a dark slump that surprised me with its timing and darkness for a few months, earlier this year and I wrote about it, talked to my friends about it, ran lots of miles in the hope I’d outrun it, then huddled up and watched Netflix with it for a while. Something seems to have shifted these days. My life situation hasn’t changed all that much but I’m starting to feel better. This may be delusional. I recently had a few weeks of a dating situation that turned out to be not very fun and kind of bizarre (Lesson: Never date the unGoogleable!!) but strangely, I still feel like I’m on the upswing. So I will just go with it, delusion or not. When I was younger, I used to pride myself in the fact that I was what I liked to call a “funmaker.” Inspired by my love of mentos, (not the fruity ones, all mint all the time, baby) the freshmaker. I had a genius for squeezing a good time out of very little money and few resources. I knew it was mostly about attitude and willingness to try something different, or to take a new route when things didn’t seem to be working on the path I was taking. Plus, I surrounded myself with other funmakers. It was funmaking at it’s best! I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life back then (hadn’t discovered my passion for the library sciences) but I knew for sure that I wanted it to be fun.
This all seemed pretty easy to do when I was young, but man, it’s been harder as time has gone on. Life just bogs you down sometimes and fun gets pushed to the side. Everything else seems so much more important and urgent. It was particularly hard for me when my kids were little and attached to me all the time, like cute little barnacles that I would long to scrape off, but would then miss like crazy when I did. I was always exhausted and feeling like I was failing in some way. And I’d think, “This isn’t fun! I’m a funmaker, dammit. I need to fix it!” But I couldn’t figure out how. One day I was driving with the kids and I heard them yelling out numbers to each other. “Hey guys, what are you doing?” I asked. “Counting all the fun things,” my middle son replied. To my great delight, it turns out that my kids are funmakers! When we got home, we made a list (’cause I am also the listmaker) of people, places, things and special treats that we could do, see and/or have that would add to our fun. We made a bulletin board with our list and would choose things from it every day. Some things were small and easy, like playing a favorite song, eating a favorite food or watching a favorite tv show and some were more involved, like getting together with friends, making fancy cupcakes or going to a place we liked. The list made it easy to do something fun every day. I also started really celebrating every holiday that came up, especially crazy made-up ones. Elvis’ birthday, National Donut Day, Talk Like a Pirate Day, etc. I took – and still take – great glee in tricking them on April Fool’s Day every year. And I researched routes on road trips to make stops at any weird, fun and unusual places that would make things exciting. I wanted so much for them to have a fun childhood and it made sense to work at it. I still do. It’s been harder over the past couple of years, but I do my best to remember to make fun a priority with them, especially now that we have less time together. These years have been so hard on them, too, so it seems even more important to choose fun whenever possible. But though I prioritize their fun, I don’t know if I’ve remembered to be a funmaker for myself. Why is that so hard?
A few years ago I was talking with one of my oldest friends and we were both exhausted and grouchy and she said, “Remember when we were young and fun? What happened?!” We both cackled at that, but it stuck with me. I’d think, “I used to be fun! Everything used to seem like a great adventure and now I’m apathetic and weary.” When I was married, for some reason it was rare for me to remember that I could choose fun for myself and not just for the kids or my husband. I forgot that I didn’t always have to do what everyone else wanted, while quietly feeling trapped and sad. Or feeling nothing at all, but tired. That was how I moved through the world for the last years of my marriage. And it wasn’t worth it. It’s not like my not being happy made anybody else happy or saved the marriage. It doesn’t actually work like that. At one point, I had a sitter for Valentine’s Day and my husband suddenly had to go out of town, abruptly canceling our plans (I could write an article called ‘Signs Your Husband Doesn’t Love You’, but I won’t, because UGH. Least fun article ever!). At first I was really disappointed, but then I had a flash of inspiration and decided that I should keep the sitter and get myself out of the house to do something just for me. Unfortunately that’s where my inspiration ended. It had been a really long time since I’d been out at night by myself and I couldn’t think of anywhere to go. I went to the library (another article idea: ‘Signs You Are a Nerd’. Yup, that one’s a winner!) and it was practically empty, as it was 7:30 pm on the biggest date night of the year. I thought “Hey it’s Valentine’s Day! I should definitely get some sort of sexy romance novel!” So I perused the shelves of books with muscley Fabio-types and ladies with heaving bosoms on the covers. I selected a few and went to the guy at the counter and he was all, “Are you having a Happy Valentine’s Day?” and then he realized the awkwardness of his question and blushed while fumbling with my pile of trashy, dirty books. And I said, “Obviously!” and started laughing. And I don’t know if that made it more or less awkward, but we both laughed about it, so it seemed to be a win. Then I took my books to Sonic and got a banana milkshake and sat in my car reading them and enjoying some quiet for a while. This may sound like a very lame night to some, but I loved it. Frankly, it was one of my better Valentine’s Days, which probably tells you a lot about my love life, thus far. But hey, lemonade from life’s lemons, y’all!
And going with that theme, a silver lining in having to end a doomed marriage that you wanted so badly to work, is that you get the space to figure out what makes you, as an individual, happy. That seems a good thing to know. Maybe other people don’t lose that in their marriages and children, but I definitely did. I didn’t mean to leave myself behind, but ten years went by in a blur and I left that marriage feeling like I didn’t know how to be happy anymore. It’s taken me over two years to figure out what I like again. I’m still learning. At first I said yes to a lot of things that I didn’t actually find fun, because they were other people’s ideas of fun and I was used to not really thinking about what I wanted and what I liked. I had trouble figuring out what made me happy. Lately, I’ve been thinking more carefully about those things. And I’m getting better at it. It’s easier for me say no to things that don’t sound appealing, despite other people’s opinions on the matter. And when I’m in the moment I’ll think, “Do I like this? Do I want this? Is this fun for me or do I need to walk away?” Sometimes I walk away. And that is working for me. I made myself a list of places and activities that make me happy and I keep it on my phone. When I’m feeling lost I break it out and make myself do something on that list. Sometimes I try a few things. I’ll admit, some things on that list are pina coladas and wine. But there are many other things as well. It’s helping. Making fun a priority instead of a luxury was a good first step to overcoming my slump. Perhaps I’m on my way to being a funmaker again? We’ll see.