The latest installment of Dear Drudgery, a series in which we tell parenting tedium what’s what. The story so far: I was a fun-loving young sprite and then there were three children and also being married can be hard, and for a while I kind of lost the plot. Then I made a Commitment to Fun, and now my life is daisies and nothing ever is the matter! it helped.
I’ve noticed that bad things don’t have to actually happen for them to bleed the color from my day—just the threat is enough. Layoffs are rumored at work. The Newsroom might get canceled. Eldest seems likely to forget that colleges aren’t just going to invite her—she’s going to have to apply.
In such times, even if the present moment is quite sparkly, my anxiety about what’s coming dulls it a bit. The palette of my day gets less vibrant, more queasy. Bad things make themselves felt, whether they manifest or not.
I started to wonder, in my ongoing battle against drudgery: Could the converse be true?
That is, did we actually have to have the fun in order to get the emotional brightener? Or could I just kind of. . .threaten it?
The concept had already worked on a small scale: When I added freebies to the Jug of Endurable Tasks, the mere possibility of scoring one brightened the entire enterprise.
Naturally, because I am the very specific product of a very specific culture, I knew it was time to supersize.
I called them Backpacks of Possibility.
I went to the thrift store and got five backpacks, one for each of us. (Including a Hello, Kitty. Excellent.) I filled these with essentials for a short, spontaneous getaway: toothbrush, nonperishable snack, reading material, swimsuit, change of clothes. To reduce the possibility of ransacking, I bought the clothes in secret and smuggled them into the packs.
(This kind of thing, by the way? This kind of let’s-ditch-everything-and-do-a-whole-different-plan? Makes my husband HIGHLY UNCOMFORTABLE. But I was starting to learn that what makes one person nervous can be another person’s key to survival, and that just has to be okay.)
I hung the packs on the wall in the hallway as decoratively as I could. To complete the display, I found half a sheet of posterboard and drew a wheeled thing that looked, if your squinted, almost like our car, a smiling yellow sunshine, and many happyface symbols. (I AM VERY ARTY AS YOU CAN SEE.) Around the art I wrote:
Backpacks of Possibility: Because you never know when you’ll get the chance to carpe some serious diem.
I lectured the family in my Philosophy of Possibility: You might be drudging it up right now, but who knows what might happen? Soccer practice could get canceled, Dad’s willing to miss his class at the Y, the weather is fantastic…
The notion that we could, all five, pull away spontaneously for an overnight was laughable; if we held out for that, we were doomed. So all of us was not a requirement. But two or three? Maybe Eldest ends up free on a Friday night, and Into the Woods is being performed at some community theatre a hundred miles away. Let’s go, before we can think of a reason not to!
Our little getaways-from-everydays wouldn’t be fancy. The wardrobe was, by definition, limited. As for motels, the cheaper, the better. (Any bed I don’t have to make is generally a bed I am willing to sleep in.)
The day after I hung the backpacks, I got home from work to start in on my standard dinner/homework/chores/please-don’t-superglue-your-sister-to-things routine. I passed through the hallway and suddenly: Possibility. Where yesterday, there had only been wall!
I don’t know how everyone else felt, passing all that potential goodness as we conducted the responsibilities of our days. But for me, Backpacks of Possibility brought zing to the palette of my everyday everythings.
That feels good, I thought. I like it.
It was several weeks before we first used the backpacks. Middlest and I, to Tacoma of all places, to investigate the beluga whale they had in the zoo. Youngest had a picture book with a beluga in it, and Middlest asked “Are these for real?” So the two of us loaded our backpacks into the car and went to see for ourselves.
Illustration by Christine Juneau