This is third installment of Dear Drudgery, a series in which we tell parent-related tedium what’s what. Previous posts include such easy-to-implement practices as Hassle Poetry and the Jug of Endurable Tasks.
This post is less practical. Consider it optional background reading.
If someone came ambling down the Internet presuming to tell me how to be more fun, I’d want to kick her in the face. (Hey! That is not a very fun thing to do!) So. If I’m going to commit this act of breathtaking hypocrisy—and it appears that I am—it feels appropriate to provide my qualifications.
But, um, oops. I’ve performed no analyses, measured no heart rates. I’m no funner than you are, most likely. BUT I OBVIOUSLY HAVE SOMETHING GOING FOR ME, BECAUSE I JUST USED THE WORD “FUNNER” AND NOBODY DIED. So, you know. Respect.
What I have is a story.
Once I had a really shitty year. So, so shitty. I had three small kids in a messy yellow house, a gaggle of ambitious colleagues, and a very kind, but very silent, husband.
At home, life was a jumble of clutter and carpools and diapers and homework. Every single day, there was more to do than I could ever get done. (No matter how many times we made dinner, the children needed to eat again, the very next day! They really had no shame about it.) And while Husband’s silence wasn’t malicious—I’m married to one of the most amiable humans ever spawned—it simply didn’t occur to him to speak to me. Our extended non-conversation made me lonely, and not always cheerful.
During this period, way too many of my sentences started “Oh for god’s sake. . .” and ended with exclamation points. (Not the fun kind).
That was home. At the office, I built software alongside energetic, wanna-be-millionaire dudes. (In certain pockets of high tech, and I was in one of them, it was pretty much always dudes back then. It’s evened out.) While I was scurrying to produce quality work and get the hell out before daycare closed (I had no millionaire aspirations, which turned out to be SO LUCKY), the guys never seemed to be in a hurry—they took lots of breaks, then worked late. It was no secret how they pulled this off: To a dude, they were either completely unencumbered, or they had wives at home to wipe the snot and manage the details.
One rock-bottom day, as a band of merry teammates held their daily frat party foosball game down the hall, I closed my office door and let the tears leak out. Sure you can play games all afternoon, I seethed, phlegmily. You have all that fucking wind beneath your wings.
(In full-on self-pity mode, I can turn the sweetest of sentiments into an exercise in profanity. I am the master.)
Husband didn’t get it, which was of course part of the problem, and the kids were too little to understand. Plus, it’s not the children’s job to understand their mama’s shitty year. It’s their job to keep growing. It takes a lot of focus to learn to use your words, especially when biting makes a much more honest statement. Keeping it together is the parent’s job.
So at work I was leaking and seething; at home, there was yelling and guilt-tripping. Keeping-it-togetherwise, I was not—to steal vocabulary from my day job—meeting expectations.
The day I overreacted to foosball, I knew for sure: This woman, scrambling through life trying not to slap anyone, is not me. I can flee, or I can find a way to inject more fun and lightness into this whole enterprise. But if I keep feeling like this, I will lose myself completely and I will surely die.
Fleeing would be embarrassing, and dying seemed likely to scar the children. So I went with funnification; it was the only option left.
(Note: I’m not saying one has to end up that close to the edge in order to un-drudge. In fact, I recommend strongly against it. And of course, true, clinical depression can’t be decided away. But I was not clinically depressed; I was what your mental-health professionals refer to as “kinda bitchy, really.”)
I had a friend in a similar place. We whined at each other regularly, “But I used to be so fun. What happened?” One day we decided: We would no longer let the tasks of survival be the whole story. We would Commit to Fun.
We wanted to stop acting like life was such a freaking chore all the time. To very consciously create little zones of joy and air and light amid all the daily tasks, pockets in which tiny green shoots of fun and freedom could survive. The next day I set out to find or make a million sunlit spaces, where before I’d thought there was only room for Getting Things Done.
I began to feel like myself again, and life was vastly better inside the yellow house.
And that is the creation story of my assault on drudgery and my commitment to fun. It comprises the entirety of my qualifications to speak on the subject:
1. Once I lost myself in drudgedom, and I didn’t like it.
2. I found simple gimmicks to make our days more fun, and
3. Life was more joyful, then.
Of course, every so often I still get lost, and have to remember to drag myself back. You have to keep working the program. Truth be told, we have the makin’s, again, for another no-good era at my house. But I’m older and a little wiser, and I’ve gotten out of this hole before.
Not this time, Drudgery, I shake my finger at it, because I am so bossy. I win, again.
Enough with the navel gaze. Next time, back to the gimmicks—we’ll pick up with Backpacks of Possibility.
(P.S. I keep my face in Seattle, in case you would like to try to kick it.)
Illustration by Christine Juneau