I specifically scheduled "family fun" from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday afternoon.
Alas, fun did not happen. In fact, the afternoon was something of a train wreck.
At work, I take pride in making the trains run on time. We schedule articles for the Life section about two weeks in advance. As the saying goes: "We plan our work and work our plan."
This buttoned-down, day-planner approach does not work with home life. For example, Monday was a holiday. I had mentally scheduled a fun family activity -- bowling -- for the late afternoon hours.
I assumed that my two boys and my lovely wife would thank me for being such an inventive dad and we would have a merry old day of strikes, spares and Slushies.
Instead, my wife was pleasantly noncommittal, my younger son sat in the floor in his underwear and pitched a fit, and my older son looked at me as if I'd suggested we take a gondola ride through a sewage treatment plant.
"That doesn't sound fun at all," he said, his whole body beginning to vibrate with frustration. "I can beat EVERYBODY IN THIS FAMILY."
"Fine," I thought to myself and stomped off to the shower. "If nobody wants to join me for family fun time from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. today, then I'll go bowling by myself."
Meanwhile, the boys sat in the family room with arms crossed, probably thinking: "Knock yourself out, Rain Man."
As I lathered my head with fruit-scented shampoo to lift my mood, I decided bowling alone wasn't such a good idea. I'm a terrible bowler, and the only guys you ever see bowling alone have their own shoes.
Then it hit me: What my family really needed was a pajama day.
We had just spent the first two days of a three-day weekend out of town visiting family. Before that, my wife, a teacher, had completed the first grueling month of school, my younger son was struggling to acclimate to kindergarten and my older son was coming off two months of nonstop sports practices.
When I finally relaxed and let the day unfold, I discovered that what my 5-year-old son really wanted to do was buy pumpkins so he could peel them with a paring knife, my 10-year-old son wanted to play Xbox games, and my wife wanted to work on school stuff.
Luckily, my younger son and I found an open-air produce market not closed on Labor Day, and we bought two perfectly round pumpkins to drag home.
Later, my older son said he wouldn't mind watching a movie. So we sat together on the couch for two hours eating popcorn from a bag and watching "Battleship," a sci-fi thriller pitting the U.S. Navy against a bunch of space aliens with no thumbs. I could feel him snuggling into my arm during the scary parts, his eyes peeking out from under a cotton blanket.
Later Monday night, I heard the boys screaming with delight from the bedroom, and I walked into a full-fledged pillow fight.
The little one climbed onto the bed and jumped on my back, while the older son pummeled me with a memory foam pillow that felt like half a bag of ready-mix concrete.
I curled into a fetal position to rope-a-dope them into submission, and eventually we all collapsed in a pile.
Sometimes our lives are so narrowly scripted that we forget that real contentment comes from spontaneously enjoying the people we adore.
Try as we might to manage it, fun doesn't punch a clock.
Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...