My husband has this thing he says when our family is trying to do something fun, like take a family hike or visit a water park, but failing. He surveys the kid-on-kid bickering or me bellowing "We're gonna be late!! Put your shoes on!!," shakes his head and says flatly: "This is how we have fun."
I admit it. Sometimes I forget. It's easy to get caught up in the supposed-to-be's of fun and draw a blank when it comes to the actual having-of-fun. Enter: Shaquille O'Neal. Yes, Shaq. Never mind the four NBA championships he's earned. I'm more interested in the title he gave himself: The Ambassador Of Fun. I also hear he'll answer to The Overlord of Fun. (Note to self: Become the Overlord of something cool, asap, and make the family call me that.)
This father-of-six is apparently so much fun that Carnival Cruise Line—the Fun Ship folks—just named him their first-ever CFO, or Chief Fun Officer. Since I'm currently the Chief Do-your-homework-and-clear-the-table Officer in my household, I figured Shaq could likely help infuse my day-to-day with some fun. After all, it's literally his job now to help me (well, everyone) Choose Fun.
I realized that it's way easier to choose fun on a ship with a SkyRide, an IMAX theater, and bazillion water slides, than, you know, around my dining table. But, I firmly believed Shaq was up for the task, so I gave him a call. (For real. I just dialed him up and earned some serious kid-cred right there.) And, you know what? He gave me some pretty awesome advice, no SkyRide required. (Though I wouldn't mind a spin.)
Shoehorn fun into must-dos.
"As parents, we need to integrate fun with business—the business of getting food on the table, getting ready for school, all of it," Shaq tells me. "Since there's not a lot of room, we need to make the room." Essentially, we can't wait around for the weekend (or, you know, a cruise) to start having fun. We gotta grab it in spits and spats, like in the middle of the morning breakfast-brush-out-the-door struggle. "My kind of fun is spontaneous fun," he said. "So in those situations, I try for the laugh." (OK: Go for the giggles when they're least expecting it. Got it.)
Do what you did when you were a kid.
You know how parents can feel pressure to have fun? Like, I paid a lot of money for this vacation! You all better feel the joy! Or even when we save all of our family activities for the weekend: That puts the fun-pressure on, too. The cool thing about kids? They don't feel that pressure. The cool thing about Shaq? Neither does he. Why? He makes it a priority to be that kid when he's not working. "I work a lot, so when I have a day off, I do the stuff I did as a kid: Go Karts, roller coasters, swimming, if I'm in Orlando, I visit the gators," he says. "I love it." In short, as a grown-up, I need to channel the worry-free fun of my own childhood. (I never cared if I looked silly or failed then. So why do I care now? Shaq, you are onto something!)
Get out of your own way.
"As a parent, you have to do 'fun' things that you might not want to do, but you do them because you're teaching your kids how to try new things and have fun," says Shaq. "Like that time I went to the trampoline park for the kids. I nearly broke my ankle, but it was worth it!" He went on to say that he thinks the best way to have fun is to simply give yourself over to the experience. "Let go of preconceived notions and enjoy." Shaq even admitted that he suffered from some cruise-bias before he set sail. "I thought it would be really boring, that there'd be a bunch of old people taking a ride," he said. "Then I went on and, my god, I was so upset I didn't go earlier!"
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It's funny: I used to feel the same way about cruises until I was onboard, and essentially, never wanted to leave. Neither Shaq nor I would know the big-time fun of a cruise if we didn't get over our own fun-hurdles: Ourselves. I can't help but wonder how many other potententially super-fun things are out there that I mistakenly poo-pooed before even trying.
It turns out, asking the biggest silly goose in sports about having fun was a super-smart move. I'm feeling more fun by the minute. Now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to get out of my own way, head over to the dining table, and tell some killer fart jokes to a couple of unsuspecting kids. (By the by: When I called Shaq, he answered the phone with, "Hellllllo, Holly, Holly, oxen free." That will, for the rest of my days, make me laugh and remind me to be like Shaq and always just choose fun).