The Tyranny of Weekends

I have a confession to make. I hate Saturday mornings. I’ve been fooling myself for decades. I thought I loved Saturdays. I spend the workweek dreaming of them, thinking I will wake up rejuvenated and blissful, that I will relish every moment of not having to be somewhere.

Instead I stumble out of bed at six-thirty and feel uncertain. I make my morning tea and my to-do list starts pinging around in my brain. On Friday I was so optimistic. I packed a set of student papers in a folder thinking I could just casually sit around and grade them while my children played. I thought I’d crank out an essay that’s due in ten days. I thought that I would fold all the laundry, do five more loads, prepare my taxes, and defrost the freezer. Small goals, I told myself, and these were the goals I set. But on Saturday mornings I wake up not wanting to grade papers or fold laundry. I don’t want to engage with my to-do list, but to relax would require letting go of the list, and I can’t quite do that either. And so I spend all of Saturday morning trapped between these two places, unable to commit to doing, unable to commit to not-doing.

This week my compromise was to walk the dogs. I thought that the air and movement would help me, that I’d be performing a pleasant but useful task. I was already feeling brighter as I put on my boots; I was getting ready to cure myself. But then Wally, our younger dog jumped all over me with muddy paws and insisted on sniffing my crotch. And then Winnie, our older dog, was shedding his winter coat in giant fluffy tufts. When I bent over to gather some of loose fur, I noticed his coat was oily and matted. He was in dire need of a bath. When I got home, Kellie and I would spend the next two hours cleaning and brushing him—a large chore that neither of us had planned on. Meanwhile, as the children played inside the house, our refrigerator began dying an angry, loud death. The following would become the soundtrack to our weekend as we searched for working refrigerators on Craigslist and tried to deter Smoke and Stump from their usual habit of opening the fridge and just standing there for minutes on end. Listen:

I hope that this is not a woe-is-me post. I hope that this is a life-is-life post. The problem is not my stinky matted dog or my crazy-loud refrigerator or any other spontaneous challenge. The problem is the trouble I have in making space for these challenges. I crowd my weekend with expectations. I make the mistake of thinking I can tame these two days every week, and inside tameness I will find comfort. When the weekend proves untamable I’m mad at myself, and mad at life.

Sundays are often a little better. This morning I left the death-rattle of the refrigerator behind me and went for a run. The sun was out. I ran through the woods. I jumped over puddles and brooks—everything was wet from the rains we’ve had this week. It was nice to be outside, but dread still nestled in my sternum. On the last mile of my run, when I was back on the pavement, I spotted a tiny plastic dinosaur that some child must have dropped while on a walk. I backtracked to pick it up. I thought about bringing it home to my kids—because if there’s anything my household needs it’s one more tiny plastic toy. I had no pocket, and so as I ran, I held its tail between my thumb and forefinger.

Here’s a funny thing about that dinosaur. My mood instantly lifted. It’s hard to take yourself too seriously when you’re wearing green spandex and holding a tiny t-rex. The longer I ran with the t-rex in my hand, the more I saw him as the angst that had been ruling me, a tiny monster inside who thinks he’s more important that he is. Now that I held him in my hand, I could see him as a small and ridiculous thing. I could get some space, some vantage. I could put him on the shelf and walk away.

When I came home, both of my kids instantly noticed the dinosaur in my hand. “Is that mine?” Stump asked me. “No, it’s mine,” told him. “Can we have it?” Smoke wanted to know. I told them they couldn’t. I need it.

The Underachiever’s To-Do List

My summer break officially starts in 21 days. I’m trying not to think about all of the work that needs to get done between now and then, the papers that need grading, the early morning meetings. Instead, I’m just trying to trust that these days will pass, that the work will get done somehow, and by the end of June I will breathe again.

But I’m worried about my to-do lists, which are scattered on my computer, my iPhone, on scraps of paper. They’re full of crazy goals, of random ideas, of books I need to read, of essays I need to write, and 1001 ways to become a better person. I’ve learned from summers past that two months is more of a blip than a lifetime, and yet still I overplan.

So I’ve decided I need a new kind of to-do list, one that helps me actively work on underachieving, or to put it more kindly (and more accurately) one that helps me attend to my day-to-day needs rather than always scrambling towards some distant future.

1. Sleep as much as possible. My goal here is to stop counting hours, to stop treating sleep as a bargaining arrangement, e.g. If I sleep five hours tonight and six hours tomorrow, I can make it up by sleeping eight hours on Friday. No. I won’t do this anymore. I will go to bed when I’m tired and wake when the morning wakes me. And I will have long conversations with Stump about this plan, because he will need to get on board.

bed

2. Sit on the couch with Smoke and watch a movie from beginning to end. I’m not sure I’ve ever done this. I’ve tried, but always I find myself getting up and folding laundry, or grabbing my laptop and answering emails. But I’m capable of this, I know it. Maybe if I make a giant bowl of popcorn, I’ll be able to sit still for ninety minutes.

3. Binge-watch TV on Netflix. I am so overdue for this. I think I’ve watched a total of three hours of TV over the last nine months.

4. Have car-free, plan-free, errand-free days. Plan-free days scare me, but they always turn out to be the best days, the days where we actually find time to draw and make cookies, or ride bikes to the park and then stay there for two hours.

puddle

5. Cultivate friendships. Sometimes I forget to appreciate all of the people I love outside of my immediate family. Partly it’s because they are scattered across the state and the country. Partly it’s because, as a rule these days, everyone is always busy. I try to make time to maintain the friendships I have, but this means giving them just enough. It means an hour in passing here and there, but never long enough to follow a hundred tangents and then land on a comfortable silence. This summer I want to be the kind of friend who actually answers the phone, who says “yes” to the spontaneous invitation, who goes on an adventure, who has an afternoon to spare.