“Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate
And though I oft have passed them by
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.”
―Poem On Destiny by J.R.R. Tolkien
Back to school happened to land on the same week as an out-of-state trip for my husband, so I strangely found myself staring at something unheard of….free time.
Every day this summer someone in my household was sick, seriously sick, pneumonia sick. I work a couple of very part time jobs, but the problem with a part time job is that I never receive any vacation days. So, in order to string together enough days off to go on a family vacation, I ended up working extra shifts for 21 days straight smack in the middle of my turn with the horrible illness. (Did I mention I also don’t get sick days either?) It’s been a long un-restful summer. In truth, it’s been a long un-restful six years or so.
I wear so many hats that it is easy for me to be pathologically busy at all times. I have a tendency to spend any free or alone moments frantically trying to get caught up on chores or errands. Ok, it’s more than a tendency, it’s a definite habit, a fixed delusion in fact. I persistently believe that if I can just get even, forget thoughts of getting ahead, just get even on all the household tasks while my loved ones are not home to feel distressed or neglected by my busy-ness that I will somehow magically be able to have more time focusing my attention on them when they return home. I whip myself into a frenzy of cleaning in the fixed false belief that somehow lovely quality time will be created if I can just get the work taken care of before they get home.
I am beginning to admit this is delusional behavior, because I see that the results I am beating myself repeatedly up for never really happen. Instead, my family arrives home to find a grouchy Mama who is tired from a flurry of movement, hungry and thirsty from skipping meals, drained from missing out on a whole list of enjoyable alternatives that she just couldn’t find time for, and frustrated at the perceived creators of all this mess. All the lovely quality time that I was striving for ends in a series of irritable interactions where I feel that I have failed to meet any of my loved ones needs because I was too overwhelmed by the time they arrived home to be present with them.
If the essence of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then I need to get out of this insane rut. A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law posted about going on a date with herself. Her self-dating was apparently not a success, but it inspired me to try to think about my situation from a different light. I wanted to challenge myself to think of my upcoming free time as a chance to change my habits and maybe date myself a little bit.
In the morning I woke to a quiet house full of potential chores, but I decided to take it slow and actually make myself breakfast and eat it, put my feet up for a few minutes, and for the first time spend some time in my new meditation room actually meditating! Ok, I did end up caving and doing several chores in a hurry before finally scraping out of the door late, but it was not a total fail.
Pool party after church. It was hot. I knew if I got in the pool as my son had begged me to then he would only pay attention to me and not to the other kids (which of course is the point of going to a pool party instead of staying home in your own pool). So I sacrificially sweltered on the sidelines for over and hour and a half until finally I declared in my head that he had done enough socializing for the day and I got to jump in a cool off. Ahhhh! Felt great. I had a list of numerous things to possibly do, but I knew if I went home I would just end up doing them, so since he was having such a great time we stayed for an extra hour after the party was over.
In the evening, my son’s birth-father planned to take him for pizza and a movie, so I figured I had about 2 ½ to 3 hours to myself. I had considered this and decided to rent the new Les Miserables, which I had not seen because I haven’t see a grown up movie in years. However, just before leaving, my son read Splat the Cat Goes to School, and he happened to declare, on the way out the door, that he felt he absolutely had to have a double chocolate cupcake for school the next day just like Splat, because that’s how Splat knew his mommy loved him! (Arrow to my heart!) Cue this Mama immediately running to the store to get the ingredients that I was out of and hurriedly making muffins. Unfortunately the store was so crowded, I ended up getting several calls from work, and it’s harder to make double chocolate muffins and sneak in a few healthy ingredients without a recipe than it might seem. When I finally got a mug of hot tea and the movie rolling, I only got to see the first 30 minutes before Ty arrived and after one look at the paused screen declared that I was watching a horror movie and requested a switch to something with talking dogs in it.
I tried to finish Les Mis, but I had various business issues that had to be taken care of by a certain time which left me no time for the last third of the movie. I have read the book, seen the concert version and the previous movie, so I figure the ending was not going to be a surprise. After trips to the bank and post office, I decided that while I was out of the house I should stay out of the house. Returning to a house full of chores is just too tempting. So I took my laptop to a local coffee shop that I have driven past a million times but never stopped at, bought myself a drink that turned out to be delicious, and sat outdoors in the shade writing for several hours. It was a huge indulgence. I usually just scribble down a few thoughts on backs of napkins and recipes while I am standing in line somewhere and then cobble them together at whatever point I wake up in the middle of the night. Uninterrupted writing time was a true luxury. I think it paid off in other ways too, because when I left to go pick up my son, I actually felt more rested and really ready to listen to him and participate in his new obsession of making up stories about Legos. My stories were much better received that usual, so I think I must have been on my game.
In the evening, I determined to stick to the schedule and take my dogs to obedience classes because those unruly hounds are a couple of the biggest mess makers in my life. After a grueling lesson of trying to manage two dogs by myself, I was ready to go home, but my son decided he wanted to read all the greeting cards in the store, and well, reading is reading right? So we sat on the floor until he finished every one of them. On the way home, dropping off my movie at Redbox, my son read the sign that said the Lego movie he had been anxiously awaiting was supposed to be out, which ended in a trip to five different boxes before we finally located a copy. I’m sorry to admit I did some chores during his movie. I couldn’t help myself.
The work week before had been out-of-control busy, so I had a pile of paperwork needing attention. I suppose I could have left them for the following week, but that’s always such a gamble as there is no guarantee that the next week will be less busy. I’m no gambler, but I did set myself a goal of having the paper work done in two hours and to not allow myself to get sucked in to doing more than I absolutely needed to do. Despite the usual three or four interruptions, I managed to finish in the allotted time and felt like I should reward myself. I tried to think creatively and realized that I was only a couple of blocks from the lake. I decided to drive around it. Partway through the drive I thought, perhaps I should actually stop and get out. Then I remembered that I had my yoga mat in the car and my new iPod shuffle headphones that my husband had surprised me with before he left, and I decided to hike out to the point of the lake do yoga by the water in the warm sun. This was the sort of thing I would have said is just not “me”, but I shoved down all the impulses to get back in the car and hurry off to a pile of laundry. It turns out that those ‘not me’ kind of people out there who do such things are totally on to something, because it was fabulous!! At the end of a thirty minute set I was feeling so good that when this really fun song came on I found myself jumping around dancing and waving my arms around like a crazy person and actually hoping that the passing fishing boats would see me because I felt so radiantly happy I just thought it would surely bring a smile to their day. It left me feeling that I should do things that ‘just aren’t me’ more often.
I was in such a good mood picking my son up from school that I was really energized to do something fun with him. I offered a list of my ideas, which he counter-offered with a list of his own. We did his list…. trip to the Lego store, dinner in the mall while building the new Legos we purchased, then a movie with snacks. I usually let my parents take him to new movies because theater seats are usually quite uncomfortable to my hips and leave me hobbling in pain, but I was surprised to find the mall theater had been remodeled and now had super-comfey recliners. I think I may change my attitude about movies from now on.
I had to work a 10 hour shift, but I tried to eat breakfast, take drinks and snacks and actually stop for lunch. I do think I had more energy and an improved attitude at the end of the day. I also felt better than usual because I knew I was returning to a relatively chore free house due to some help from others. I had decided the only way for me to make it through a week of downplaying chores would be to outsource some of them, so we had hired a cleaning service to spruce up the inside and a lawn service to tackle all the green stuff outdoors. For one blissful day I got to arrive home after a long day at work to see nothing that urgently needed to be done. It was lovely to have the neatest lawn on the block for a bit, and I didn’t mind making my son’s favorite messy tacos for dinner and dragging out a bunch of toys and Legos to play because I knew those were the only things I would have to clean up.
I had thought about this project ahead of time and had considered the possibility that I might by this point in the week have completely failed and worn myself out with cleaning, so I had decided that in order to make sure I had at least one restful day I would put my credit card where my mouth was and book a non-refundable spa day to force the issue. I had a couple of hours after school drop off before my appointment, so I decided to stick with what had worked earlier in the week and to stay out of the house. I went to a cute cafe and had a lovely breakfast while writing on my laptop.
I arrived ahead of schedule for my hour long massage and mani-pedi. I have gone to a spa only about three times in my life… graduation gift, before my wedding, and once on a vacation. It was fun and relaxing, but in future I think I just don’t like having polish on my fingers so I would skip that part. The massage, though, really worked out some kinks I didn’t even know were bothering me, so I did decide to book another appointment next month to try to keep the momentum going.
When I picked up my son from school I was feeling so energized that I had no interest in going home. I convinced him to join me on an adventure. Ever since my cancer surgery I had visions of myself taking up archery, which is such a fascinating sport to watch on television and seems like a warrior woman sort of hobby. Earlier in the month I had bought a living social deal to a local indoor archery lane and I felt like today was the day to use it. My son was very reluctant, but with many coaxing stories of Merida and the bear (a movie by the way which he had refused to watch until I rented it “for myself” but then started sneaking peaks at it over his DS screen, eventually got hooked watching it, and finally was hopping up and down begging me to replay the whole thing again). Since I was driving, he agreed by default to drag along and keep the whining turned down. They gave me a hot pink bow and I had a great time challenging myself to stretch my arms in directions they don’t usually go. I think I did really well for the first time out as all my arrows hit somewhere on the target, although none were close enough to the center for my son to say they counted.
After such a big concession on his part, I let him pick his favorite spot for a snack and we hung out much longer than usual making up Smurf stories and playing Angry Birds Star Wars together (I can’t hit the target well enough for him on that either!).
We arrived home to a still clean house, so after one load of laundry I was done, and we crawled into bed an hour and a half early for some extra snuggle time. The last day of my grand experiment went really well.
So, what did I learn from all of this?
I think I’m a really awesome date for a seven year old. I know exactly how to show my son a good time, and I consistently get positive feedback for catering to his interests. However, I am not really cut out to be a caterer. I think that by pushing him a little out of his comfort zones to do things that I am interested in, I can get more out of the process and in the long run be a more engaged and engaging mom-date for him.
I think it is possible and probably even practical for me to show myself a good time every now and then. If I put some effort into it, I can be a really fun date for me, and I think I end up being more fun for the rest of the people in my life when I do.
I think I should work harder at being a better date to my husband as well. We may have started out our dating relationship with me as an exhausted, broke, single-mom whose only free time was trips to the grocery store, and I certainly love that he was willing to walk many supermarket aisles, carry a lot of coupons, and push many carts just to get to hang out with me, but we aren’t in that place anymore. I could outsource, delegate and simply ignore some of these chores and be a happier person to be around. If I didn’t always have a mile long to-do list, he might actually take me dancing instead. I’m not sure I can do without the list, but I can certainly consider putting dancing close to the top of it.
If I could choose my own destiny, I would want to choose a future where I was consistently a pleasant and present force in my family. If I can put aside my delusions, I could perhaps make room for that as a reality. When they say ‘make a date with destiny’ perhaps what they really mean is that if I ever want to get there, I should put destiny first on my to-do list.