Taking orders from the Leader of Fun

My daughter Sally is the quintessential Leader of Fun. She’s here for a short visit. This time, we’ve agreed to avoid the endless litany of to-do lists in favor of relaxation and spontaneity.

She arrives by bus. I pull her in for a long, relaxing hug. She pulls out a list. So much for agreements.

“Frozen yogurt,” she says.

Actually, her demand (um, request) sounds more like “frmushdepyigbt,” because her face is squished to my chest.

And we’re off.

We’re one bite in when she raises her right hand, miming a quick down-then-upward gesture.

“Froyo? Check.”

And the laughing begins.

“Hilarity? Check,” she giggles.

There’s a quick stop for a long-awaited “on my list” Italian sandwich, and once home, she spots the black-and-white photo of my mom from 1940 in a camp uniform. Since, very briefly, we are not stuffing anything into our faces, we burst into the traditional song, in harmony.

Singing Camp Waziyatah song? Check.

Later, she comes to our bedroom door.

“Mom? Do you have an extra toothbrush?”

Driving to the store at 10 p.m.? Check. But well worth it, for the conversation.

“Mom, is it sherbert or sherbet? And how about ketchup versus catsup? And Mom, why do you say ‘saltza’ for ‘salsa’? You know that’s wrong, right?”

My head spins. You know, from relaxation.

She mentions the small mole on the side of my nose.

“Your beauty mark looks like a nose ring,” she says. “Why don’t you ‘bedazzle’ it?”

Asthma attack from hysterics? Check.

In our no-list, non-plans, the fun continues. Suppers out (“Lobster roll? Check.”). Going to the movies (“Stadium seating and snacks? Check.”). I fleetingly think about my weight. But the Leader of Food – I mean, Fun – is only here for three days, so I’m not too concerned.

Walking? Check.

Buying veggies but eating chocolate? Check.

Teasing me about the worn-out TV-advertised ShamWow rags I fell for? Check.

Playing cards? Check.

Sally’s temper tantrum after losing card game? Check.

I enter a snack and over-activity coma. Then, there’s a fleeting thought.

“Sal,” I say. “Maybe we should write down what we’re eating every day.”

“Mom, what would you do if you were conjoined twins doing that weight management program?” she asks. “How many stomachs? How many carbs? What if one of you wanted something and the other one didn’t?”

This stuff can’t be taught.

There’s another trip to the popcorn (I mean, movies), flagrant disregard for my weight reduction efforts by yours truly, shopping by day and Marx Brothers by night. Sally buys lovely gifts for her New York friends, reminding me of our long-standing, bizarre running gag of buying and sneaking the ugliest, cheapest souvenirs into each other’s possession. In fact, I’m surprised Sally hasn’t noticed the esteemed “catpig” – a pink ceramic, grotesquely green, fuzzy-haired object, and the subject of a family video – on the guest room shelf.

The next day, she’s getting ready to go to the beach.

“OK,” I say. “I’ll stay here and take a walk. I need to get back on track.” I grab my abdominal bulge.

She looks at my waistline.

“Visual cue? Check,” she says.

Later, I’m finishing a salad as she walks in. She suddenly turns away.

“What’s that?” I ask, as she stuffs a white bag into the garbage.

“Schmalptinkpalck,” she says.

Oh. Chocolate cake.

The day of her departure, I pack Sally’s fragile gift bags into the car trunk for her.

“All set. Now let’s go eat somewhere,” I say.

“Thinking ahead? Check,” she says, and we laugh.

I laugh far longer than she does. In fact, I can barely contain myself for the next two hours through brunch. You know, you laugh so much with someone you love that you just can’t stop. Every little thing seems funny.

Especially when you put your precious daughter, with backpack and gift bags, onto the bus, hug her and tell her how much you love her and how much fun you’ve had and how you’re not going to cry when she leaves. You watch the bus go and you stifle the emotion erupting within.

You are sending her back, all 5 foot 1 of her, back to the big city, back to be on her own again.

You feel all that welling up, and finally burst.

Because there is nothing as satisfying as knowing that when she opens her gift bags, she’ll find an additional collection of items – a bunch of ShamWows gently cradling the catpig and a few hand-chosen hideous figures from my personal stash.

And that, my friends, is what makes me not just a Leader, but the Master of Fun.

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