The Dictionary of Fun

“The Dictionary of Fun” was an actual hard copy book I recall from childhood. And I do remember that fun was something that my mother, especially, was good at. She was creative, and my father encouraged her in her many ‘arty’ pursuits: oil painting, sewing, flower arranging. She would host an annual “Holiday Boutique” for several years when I was in junior high and high school and sold things like oranges stuck with cloves and then wrapped in netting to hang in closets as a sachet and hand made potholders. I remember making some kind of booze infused pound cake for several years. There were also some frozen hors d’oeuvres on offer which we irreverently named “pig plops,” because they were made with sausage, Bisquick and grated cheese.

I remember one of the last conversations my mother and I had before she died and I thanked her for everything she had done for us, for me and my siblings and my father. “It was fun,” she replied. Or did she say “I had fun?” Did she mean that some of it was fun? I am sure that some of it was fun.

Mom made nearly all of our clothes when we were in grade school. The boys’ clothes too? I don’t remember. Halloween costumes, my dresses, her dresses, probably. Her blonde hair pinned up in an elegant French twist as she ran the sewing machine. She was so talented. Aprons, pot holders, quilts. Later in her life, my mom’s sewing room would turn into her hideout, with many unfinished projects, but she was happy when we were little kids, I think.

As a child, I grew up with an appreciation of fun, the thought that life would provide something . . . unexpected and surprising. Dinner might be served with 50 lit candles; a meal of all green food. Breakfast for dinner when Dad was out of town on a business trip was fun.

My mother never had a paying job when her kids were young. It wasn’t until my youngest sister was in high school that my mom worked in the Arts & Crafts building at the local county Fair. She enjoyed that, I think. When my daughter found my birth certificate recently, I was amazed to see that there was a space for father’s name and father’s occupation, then a space to fill in mother’s name, but no space for mother’s occupation. It wasn’t that long ago. Now, my two daughters fully expect to have careers, to “work outside the home,” to have money of their own. Their Filipino grandma wants my oldest to become a nurse. My daughter is 15 and a A+ freshman in high school and was more than a little offended at the suggestion. She has higher aspirations for her world of work and her future. But Grandma immigrated from the Philippine Islands and she is focused on stability and economic security, something that a nursing career would certainly provide.

My various career incarnations over the years – work as a journalist, an event planner for a food and wine non-profit and work as a recruiting coordinator for a big law firm with a big budget for training and entertainment – have often prompted people to say to me, “Oh, that sounds like fun!” I value fun. It’s important.

I am my mother’s daughter and she taught me to inject fun into life when possible. In life, and work, it is not so much what you do, but who you are and how you choose to live your life. As poet Mary Oliver wrote “your one wild and precious life.”