“All Joy and No Fun,” Jennifer Senior’s new book about how hard it is to be a parent these days is annoyingly on point.
By examining clinical research and doing exhaustive original reporting, Senior creates a narrative that is so mind-numbingly familiar that it’s hard not to mentally click off the boxes of her findings:
●Parents are sleep-deprived. (Check.)
●Couples with children fight more than childless couples. (Check.)
●Couples with kids fight about the kids more than anything else. (Check.)
The subhead of the book — “The Paradox of Modern Parenting” — sets up a kind of zero-sum game of motherhood (and yes, fatherhood; but as Senior points out, dads feel this to a lesser extent). “Joy” is the long-term payoff for making sure there are clean clothes, the math homework is done, healthful meals are on the table and little Johnny can always get to practice for that travel soccer team. Joy comes in the moment of achievement, success. “Fun,” that transient, fleeting, spontaneous, serendipitous feeling, is what we sacrifice for the joy of knowing in our old age that all our sacrifices paid off. In Senior’s calculus, we endure the short-term drudgery for the long-term sense of satisfaction.
As I said, it’s an easy premise to swallow, and I probably would have written a column saying that it’s a sad truth of modern parenthood. But then I discovered Noelle Pikus-Pace, the mother of two who just won an Olympic silver medal in a sport called skeleton. (You rush head-first down an ice-covered track at speeds of 80-plus mph wearing a helmet and a Lycra suit.)
Actually, I first came to know who she was as the result of an AT&T commercial that shows Pikus-Pace looking for all the world like the epitome of “All Joy and No Fun.” The ad, entitled “Hours,” takes us through a day in Pikus-Pace’s life. She gets up in the pre-dawn hours and lifts weights until she’s interrupted by her 2-year-old son. Next, we see her getting breakfast on the table, taking one child to school, another to soccer practice. The 30-second synopsis shows her saying good night to her children on her phone as she gets ready to head down the track in the dark on a practice run.
I was exhausted just watching. But as the two-day women’s skeleton event unfolded on television, there was something I couldn’t get over. Pikus-Pace was always smiling. Even when she recounted the miscarriage that ultimately drove her out of retirement and back into her sport, she looked transcendent talking about the decision she and her husband reached to “do this as a family.”
Her first run in the event was disappointing, and yet at the end of the track she popped up and blew kisses to her husband and children in the stands. And she was smilin.
When she finished the last of four runs Friday in a time that won her a silver medal, it wasn’t good enough to blow kisses. Instead, she vaulted into the stands to hug her husband and hold her kids. Try to watch it and not tear up.
Afterward, in an interview with Meredith Vieira, Pikus-Pace talked about the hard work and the sacrifices made to get her to the medal podium. She thanked her husband for believing in her, talked about it being a team effort, talked about the difficulties of traveling the skeleton circuit as a family and then she said this: “It was so much fun.”
In that moment, I realized that the joy and fun of mothering are only as mutually exclusive as we allow them to be.
8Join author Jennifer Senior for a live discussion at washingtonpost.com Thursday at 11 a.m.