Of all the things I’ve written, or will eventually write, on topics like sex or love or food or kids or my own intimate domestic confessionals, this one definitely cannot be read by my children. It would crush them. It would twist their happy world-view into an impossible knot. They might toy with the idea of loving me less. They’d certainly rethink their allegiance to me as their trusted caregiver.
It concerns something too dear to them, too sacred for me to sully in public. It concerns… June Fun. Do you know what June Fun is? Have you had June Fun yourself? If you have any connection to the NYC public school system, particularly in certain parts of Brooklyn where there are excellent public schools, you may recognize it as the final month of school when school isn’t really…you know, school. June Fun goes by many sinister names, but all mean basically the same thing: Parents are expected to procure, prepare, create and celebrate a new concept each day in the month of June that will result in what the school hopes will be: FUN. Crazy Hat Day. Backwards Day. Opposite Day. Crazy Hair Day. There are a lot of crazy days in June. Community Worker Day. Dress Like Your Hero Day. Stress Out Working Parents At 10pm While They Try To Rustle Up An Outfit that Makes Their 42 lb. Son Look Like LeBron James Day. If You Fail, You’re Either A Bad Parent or Everyone Will Assume Your Kid is a Jehovah’s Witness Day. Which is perfectly appropriate if he is a practicing Jehovah’s Witness, but it happens that yours is not, so you’re a lazy mom. Day.
If the tradition continues this year, my school-wide community will receive a calendar for each school day in June, notated with special instructions that will create the recipe for aforementioned Fun. On the precipice of this, I await my June Fun calendar with trepidation and a kind of pre-exhaustion. The exhaustion resulting from my efforts to act as thrilled as my children are about June Fun, while inside I wish it could be, well, kind of, abolished. I’m trying to get So Much Done in June, before they are HERE, bless them, everyday until the fall. And if memory serves, the June Fun for each grade is not even synched! Do you understand what this means? Do you appreciate how sadistic this is? On a given day, your 4th grade boy might need to wear a backwards evening dress and pumps, while your 1st grade girl may require a wig and corncob pipe. If you have more than one child in elementary school at a time, this begins to feel like tyranny. I live in a small apartment, not the costume department of La Cage Aux Folles or a joke shop in Times Square.
A small disclaimer is that my children, in particular, binge hard on June Fun. Not everyone’s kids are such radicalized enthusiasts, so other parents’ feelings about June Fun may be less complicated. My son is an evangelizer for June Fun. He takes everything off the refrigerator and places the calendar in the center with magnets, where he admires it and talks about it at repetitive length. He really, really talks about it a lot. There is a very developed, very active school spirit at work there. The calendar menaces me, from the corner of my eye while I drink a cup of coffee or casually open the fridge for some water and am reminded that I have fifteen minutes to come up with a high-fashion roller derby look for my daughter.
This sounds terrible, I know! It’s a form of sinful thinking my children can never discover about me. I am torn between the sweetness of watching them relish these days of fun, and my general anxiety about meeting the expectations of it. The non-stop carnival of it. After the unpleasant, high stakes testing period, I understand the impulse to get loose, and if June Fun has its way with us, downright wacky. But after a week or so, it’s just too much wacky to navigate. I recognize it’s exciting for them to show up at school wearing old pajamas or tank tops with wide ties from the 90’s. Their joy is contagious. This is valuable, formative stuff. I get swept up too. What kind of crank pot would complain about fun? In practice, I’m useless in the face of the cute quotient—I cry at every classroom performance, no matter how small or lackluster. I recently wept watching my son do an average forward roll on a mat during a STREB performance. I swell with oceanic fathoms of pride just observing them entering school unattended, human beings with free will and bedhead, especially during June when they might have lime green hair and handlebar mustaches affixed to their little lips. Which is why this conversation is, in my mind anyway, between the administration and me.
Since local school children would put my head on a stake and deliver it to Carmen Farina if they knew I was questioning the institutional sanctity of June Fun, my own kids leading the charge with torches, maybe I could simply request to spre-e-e-a-a-d it out a bit? Could we have a few days of October Fun? Followed by Face-Paint Friday in December? And then ramp things up as we approach the multi-floor keg party the school seems to become in June? All I’m requesting is some pacing, an effort to not be so gluttonous for fun all in one crowded month’s time. Most critically, the month RIGHT BEFORE they are all released back into the wild, a period during which we cobble together childcare and participate in back-to-back July and August—you guessed it—Fun.
Maybe it’s this dissonance that keeps it going year after year—the pleasure we gain from seeing our kids pretend to be different selves for a day, incongruous with our To Do List stress. As overextended working parents, we are a tad oppressed by the efforts June Fun demands—minor in a global sense, as we are not sending them to one room schools ten miles from home without shoes. Or water. And not water in BPA-free Siggs, I mean no clean water. I’m aware these are inane complaints when one is privileged with access to a great public school filled with teachers that are actually game for fun. But when your second grader is red-faced, anxious and crying ten minutes before drop off that her crazy hair is NOT crazy enough and you did it WRONG and it’s your FAULT, one can find oneself thinking, PLEASE BUZZ OFF, June Fun, would you?
How about June 16th through 20th Fun? I could provide a concentrated, impressive cache of fun over the course of a solid week. I submit that for consideration. And full disclosure, if it happens, I will never admit to my children my sense of relief. I will act outraged and disappointed at the cruel limitation of their fun. I have to live with these fun-eating zombies after all! But for now, at the risk of disappointing them, and my community at large, I’m preparing the greasepaint and glitter. And stacking up the crisp pile of ones for the warm weather after-school treats wagons. If there’s anything that stresses me out while simultaneously making the dreams of my kids come true more than June Fun, it’s saying Yes to the question, Can I get an icy? Can I get any icy? Can I get an icy?
Gird yourself. Calendars are being slid into thousands of mangy backpacks right now. The fun is in your hands.
This essay first appeared on the South Brooklyn Post on May 28, 2014.