Well, in case you had notions to the contrary, I’m here to tell you that a small Danish town isn´t exactly a fountain of exciting things to do, that is, after the bakery has lost its sheen and become merely a routine pleasure. At some point, our family had to face the reality that in Billund, a town of 6,000 people, we had to make our own fun, especially once the LEGOland theme park closed for the season.
As a remedy, a friend and I formed a ukulele group, BUF (Billund Uke Forening, the last word meaning club or association), and we play together about once a week. Though other members will occasionally join us, it is most often just the two of us, usually outdoors in the woods, in all kinds of weather, ideally near a fire if it’s cold (which it often is). We burn through our book of campfire songs and photocopied chords and lyrics from the internet at a lightning fast pace so as to cover the extensive mountain of material we’ve accumulated over the past year.
Somehow we manage to carry off performances that are highly satisfactory to ourselves despite badly tuned instruments, unreliable singing, a questionable choice of repertoire, and unseemly venues. In various configurations, we’ve played in park shelters in Billund and its outskirts, near a lake adjacent to a castle, on a pier in Vejle harbor, in an Iron Age living history village, and at a picnic table that was mysteriously being circled by teenage boys on motorcycles. With our ukuleles, we have celebrated birthdays, our BUF anniversary, American Thanksgiving, and pre-Christmas, along with spending long hours discussing the challenges of finding work as non-Danish-speakers raising children in a foreign country.
We also weathered the historic geopolitical events of 2016 together. That included playing near a smoky, half-lit fire in the drizzling rain the day after the Brexit vote, when half of the BUF members, who were from the U.K., were mourning the results of the British referendum to leave the EU. And it included me playing soothing or forcefully cheerful songs to myself on the ukulele in the days after the 2016 US elections, which had left me stunned.
At some point last winter we roped our families and another local family into our antics and formed an offshoot group we call “Billund Sebastian” (a play on the Scottish indie rock band Belle and Sebastian). We get together periodically for an afternoon or evening of general merriment, food cooked over a fire, and music. And without fail we reach a point in each of these soirées when the children, with drooping shoulders and forlorn expressions, beg us to go home. They’ve had their fun, played in the woods or on the playground for hours, eaten their charred food, dropped their sandwiches in the dirt, and are now just damp, chilly, and tired. We adults, who have been sitting around a nice fire playing grownup songs and drinking grownup beers while having grownup conversations, often feel the slight disappointment that comes with the realization that, as the adults, it is our duty to eventually heed the pleas of the children and pack it in. Despite urgent feelings to play “Feliz Navidad” one more time, the chorus of miserable children sings to us the truth: It is time to go home.
Sometimes I need to fight the pangs of guilt that inevitably creep up at the end of these afternoons and evenings, the ones that say, “Your children were feral sand eaters for the past four hours, their fingers are now half frozen, and the 3-year-old has wet his pants again.” This is the voice that seeks to kill all fun, especially for mothers. Yes, perhaps my kids ate a bit of dirt and the little one peed in his boots, but they also played outdoors in the fresh air with other kids for four hours straight, climbed hills, built shelters, and saw their parents having a great time doing something they love with their friends.
I’m always telling myself that eventually the kids will want to play musical instruments too. It’s part of my secret plot to rope my sons into my little world of fun music scenes before it occurs to them that music can be something people feel pressured to do or self-conscious about. I want them to see music as something that brings people together, which for me makes it so valuable. We don’t all have to be perfect musicians to play music together and have fun. We just have to be good to each other and appreciate what we each have to offer. It’s something that, if my crafty plan comes to fruition, they can have in their lives forever, even when they’re old like mom and dad.
About Kara Lochridge
Kara Lochridge is an American writer and musician living in rural Denmark with her husband and two young sons. Her work has been published on the parenting humor website Razed and at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and she is author of the blog, Freedom From Sushi. She is currently working on a series of three children’s books, and when she’s not busy learning Danish, she works as a flutist for hire and plays ukulele in the woods on a regular basis (seriously, she does). To put it simply, she wears about fifty different caps and enjoys almost every one of them. You can follow her on Twitter @KaraLochridge and check out her website at www.karalochridge.com.