Honkin’ Cow is Fun!
This is my youngest daughter’s favorite phrase. I have absolutely no idea where it came from, but she shouts it whenever she is really excited about something. “Alight, we get to go to see the Easter Bunny today,” I say. She replies by widening her eyes, falling backward and giving a big: “Hooonkin cow!” Me: “Alight, you did it! You won!” Her: “Hooonkin cow!” Me: “Alight, you can have ice cream now.” Alight: “Hooonkin cow!” You get the idea. We hear “Honkin cow” at least three times a day, pretty much every day, and have for quite a while now. Still, every time Alight says it, it makes me laugh out loud.
“Chicken Talk” is a game my oldest daughter, Breathe, and I have played for years now. Basically, one of us starts it by saying something nonsensical like “Nackanacka back oo” and the other one instantly responds as if the first person said something that made perfect sense. Using gestures and voice inflections, we ask questions, express disappointment and excitement and, generally, have a fake conversation. Kind of like Pig Latin, except a lot faster with no rhyme or reason. We continue until we’re laughing too hard to continue.
What’s the point of such silly games, you ask? Or, maybe you don’t, maybe I’m the only one who wonders sometimes what the point of fun is. I live my life overly conscious of the fact that I may not have tomorrow and, should I die before I wake, I really, really want to know that I left something by which my girls could remember me. When I’m not stressing over that morbid possibility, I’m tied in knots because I don’t want to look back with regrets so I analyze every, infinitesimal decision I make until I’m confident that I have done everything I can do to be able to look back in years to come and say, even if it wasn’t successful, “I gave it everything I could.” Then, of course, sometimes I’m freaked out because of the disease I suffer from called Perfectionism. I KNOW I’m not perfect, I KNOW all my flaws way better than anyone else… but I really, really want to at least TRY and get it right. My definition of perfection means practically reading other peoples’ minds: I want to do more than they need me to do, I want to surprise them with something big, I want to be, say and do more than they expect me to because I think that’s the only way to really gain their acceptance and love. Combine all that with an intense fear of sleep and it all makes for one serious dudette: me.
And that’s BEFORE I confess to feeling guilty for having fun. See, I KNOW how to have fun. I organize awesome parties and sleepovers. But they’re all scheduled, they’re all planned. I plan fun. True story. The gutsy truth is, it’s hard for me to justify fun. How is it fair for me to do something just for me, how is it fair to laugh like crazy or tell a joke, when there are so many children and teens hurting terribly? I know how they’re hurting because I was one of them. It’s my job to reach them, it’s what I want to do, it’s what I’ve been called to do. How is it fair for me to enjoy this day when, at the exact same moment I laugh with merriment, some little girl is curled in a fetal position, crying? Despite years of psychology training…. I can’t rationalize that knowledge away. If it’s fun for the children I love now, then the fun is justified. It’s okay, in other words, to host a spectacular sleepover in which I do ridiculous things; it’s okay to slide down a slide while at the park with my girls, because that fun is for my children. I know they have to experience play in order to thrive, learn and mature into healthy adults. Because that’s a fact, I can make their days fun-filled without feeling guilty. But it would be wrong of me to go to the park by myself and write. It would be wrong of me to go to the Y by myself and swim. It would be wrong of me to go down the slide without a child with me. Why? Because then the only one benefiting from that fun would be me, and that’s unacceptable, because I have things to do, like write or speak or reach out. I should be doing this, or that… I can’t have fun. I gave up that right a long time ago; now, I’m an advocate and if others see me playing and laughing for no reason then they won’t appreciate the seriousness of the plights children face daily.
How many of you are frowning, thinking in your heads, “This woman’s crazy”?
Today, I took my girls to Eggstravaganza at the Nashville Zoo. We got there at 7:45 this morning so that we could enjoy a special breakfast with the Easter Bunny before the crowds and before the egg hunts. Normally, I feel a rushed feeling in my heart. I’ll smile, laugh and play all while thinking about how much more time we can allow for those things before moving on. Usually, life supports my rushed feeling: the clock defends me as it pushes me forward, reminds me “you’ve only got _____ more hours before dark, still got _______ things to do, better hurry.” But today, something weird happened. As we got to the pavilion where the Easter Bunny was sitting, a calm filled my heart. The zoo technically wasn’t open yet, so the animals weren’t out on exhibit. There wasn’t very many people there (yet), there was a sense of calm lying over everything and my heart filled with it. Instead of worrying about how much more time we had before the next “seating” would take place (and we’d have to be gone), I relaxed. I expected to eat breakfast, then have pictures with the bunny. That’s what I planned for. But, suddenly, I didn’t care. Pictures first? Sure. My Alight wanted three donuts. I’d originally figured two was the “max allowed” but, when she asked for one more, I hesitated briefly then said, “Sure.” The slowness continued after we ate. Instead of looking at the animals, we did face painting. Then, after the egg hunts, instead of eating at a picnic table, we took our big blanket to the historic farmhouse and had a picnic under a tree’s shade. The picnic was the highlight of the entire day. We laughed over the ghost stories the workers of the zoo tell about the old house; we decided to tour the house for the first time.
We had fun. WE had fun. Not just the girls but I did too. I enjoyed the breeze, I enjoyed the laughter, I enjoyed watching them run and romp about. Spring is colorful and light. Children wearing bright colors, sundresses, hats and sandals; parents carrying oversized, brightly colored bags in which to haul their children’s “trip necessities.” People talking about the ocean. Flowers blooming. Pratt’s Orchard, the place we go every year to pick strawberries, said that their apple trees are in full bloom—along with the bees! The sound of lawn mowers is once again the soundtrack to lazier afternoons. Spring reminds me that, despite the enormous amount of pain in the lives of those around us, it isn’t wrong to take a moment, or a day or two, to cherish the feel of real laughter as it bubbles up out of us for no good reason. It’s okay to be silly. It’s okay for me to buy myself a new book. I tell myself I “shouldn’t”, but, really, if I don’t take time out to enjoy life for the sake of enjoying it, then how will I have the energy for my girls, or the strength to listen to the stories of abuse and tears from those I mentor?
I’m just human. I haven’t got superhuman strength. I can’t make the pain disappear. But I do still have a lot to learn. I do still have zest and appreciation for the life that is all around me. Today, at the zoo, my eight year old little girl and I both got into sacks and competed against each other in the Sack Races. It was undoubtedly more fun for me than for her. I wanted to do it again. Last night, I read useless books by a beloved author. In one of them, the two main characters, grown, engage in a snow fight and make snow angels. They do it for themselves. And their lives were richer with warmth and joy because of it.
Guilt is an awful emotion I fight almost daily. But there are reminders all around me to relax, to savor the day, to go slowly, to not be in a rush even when everyone else is, to remember that work is a part of life but it is not the whole of it. And fun–for the children and for ourselves– isn’t only a luxury, it’s also a requirement to a full and healthy life. The other day, I heard a joke. It’s rather silly, and pointless but, because it made me laugh, to conclude this post, I’m going to share it.
There were three brothers who lived in an apartment complex that had 600 stories. One night, after returning home from a party, the brothers were told that the elevator was broken, and they would have to take the stairs to their top floor apartment. The brothers made a plan. For the first two hundred stairs, the oldest brother would crack jokes. For the next 200 stairs, the middle brother would tell a happy story. Finally, the youngest brother would tell a sad story. Armed with the plan, the brothers began walking up the stairs. After two hours, it was finally the youngest’s turn to tell a sad story. He turned to the other two and said: “Okay guys, here’s the sad story. I forgot the keys downstairs.”