The latest installment of Dear Drudgery, a series in which we tell parenting tedium what’s what.
This is a story about why I find myself in a bar most Tuesday evenings, often wearing penguin pajamas. (The penguins themselves are wearing scarves and pompom hats, very stylish.) I was driven to this ritual the usual way: Chili glops on the kitchen counters.
* * *
Some years ago, I floated downstairs on a Saturday morning, heart swelling with a fantasy of breakfasty togetherness. The work week was behind me, and this morning I would orchestrate a cozy domestic tableau: a pajama-clad family smiling around homemade yumminess. Anthony, bless him, had cleaned the kitchen last night. I was about to mess it up again, in the name of Motherly Love.
My fantasy cracked when I walked into the kitchen and stuck to the floor. It shattered completely when I saw the counters, still sporting the crumbly, saucey reminders of last night’s chili and cornbread. DAMMIT.
To be fair, pots had been scrubbed and the trash taken out. But I was smacking right up against our most reliable drudgery trap: Anthony just doesn’t see some things. And I do.
You can’t make someone notice that which he does not notice. So as prime notice-er, I faced a familiar choice: I could gently point out the problem: “THIS ISN’T WHAT IT MEANS TO CLEAN THE KITCHEN!”
Or I could finish the cleaning myself, doing last night’s work before whistling up a delectable breakfast.
I felt my golden-glow morning slip-sliding toward resentment. Those options suck.
Then . . . waitasec. What were the essential elements of my fantasy? Surely the parts about being cozy in our pj’s and enjoying each other mattered more than my star turn as Donna Reed. Could I salvage what mattered most, without needing to develop a Glop Strategy?
I threw on a sweatshirt and scrawled a note: “Gone to Fargonian. Saw no reason to get dressed. Come!”
Anti-drudge strategy #1: Flee the scene of the drudgery.
* * *
On that Saturday and for two years following, our family dribbled by ones and twos, as we woke up, into the tiny café just three blocks from our house. Each week, Heidi, the café’s owner, would ask “Strawberry crÃªpe?” and Youngest, whose pj’s still had feet, would answer “YES, PLEASE!”
Heidi gave extra whipped cream and never asked the kids to pay. She knew Anthony and I would be along eventually and our family would loll on her couch, licking our plates and reading old National Geographics.
That first morning had just been about ditching the nobody-wins options of the drudge dynamic. (And by the time we got home, all the juice was out of my frustration—I mentioned the chili-n-crumbs to Anthony, he cleaned it, and that was that.). But it turned out our new ritual had a whole ‘NOTHER drudgery antidote built inside it: other people. We’re not always our best selves around strangers (see: The Entire Internet), or even around the people we love best. But toss some nice neighbors into the mix?
Anti-drudge strategy #2: Community.
Community isn’t just a small-town phenom—we live smack in the center of a metro area of three and a half million people. It’s whether you bother. Bother to go to the same little place every week, tell the person behind the counter your name and ask hers. It’s whether you talk to her a bit, ask how the morning is going, and how her son is liking Kindergarten. Friendships make the world merry. And good feelings quash the drudgey ones—that’s just scientific fact.
Yes, yes, community, nice. But where is the Tuesday-night drinking?
* * *
Our Saturday goodness came crashing down when Heidi closed her restaurant. (Turned out my panacea was her drudgery. Who’da thunk?) A bar—a BAR—moved into the space, and our cozy family refuge was replaced by hipsters and noise and all like that.
It’s possible I sulked for a few months.
“I’m not a bar person.”
But by now Eldest was babysitting age, and I was starting to learn about flexing a little.
Two years before, I’d given up my homecooked fantasy but kept its key components:
* Dress for comfort, and
* Together time.
We’d added, by happy accident,
Now, we’d transition from café to The Bottleneck. (The hipsters wouldn’t mind—didn’t their species maintain a staunchly pro-pajama stance?) Liquor laws meant we’d have to redefine together, but Anthony and I were due for some moments without the chilluns.
Anti-drudge strategy #3: be flexible.
We learned that the bartender’s name was Tyler.
We call it Pajama Night. In place of kidlets, we invite all the grownups we know. Friends within walking distance often come, but sometimes it’s just the two of us. Pajamas are optional, but the greeting is required:
“Happy Pajama Night!”
“Happy Pajama Night to you!”
We are cheery and making fun of ourselves and dead serious about this. The battle against drudgery that started as a way to keep my life in order without killing anyone has expanded, as all good philosophies must. It’s about finding territory where there’s no work for me to do (or to notice has not been done), and being with people we love. It’s about flexing my requirements, knowing that if I keep focus on what’s truly important, I can scoop up more joy—and leave disappointment behind.
Not everyone has a neighborhood café or a neighborhood bar (or pajamas.) These things are not the point. The point is: What is the essence of what I need, to love my life a little better? Does it have to be an exact thing, or is there a similar option that maybe is easier, and close at hand?
* * *
Anthony’s still in his clothes from work but I changed into hoodie + penguin bottoms shortly after dinner. Peter, our new bartender, calls “Happy Pajama Night!” as we open the door. My sister will show up soon, straight from class. Beth might be here later in her bathrobe and slippers, because Beth doesn’t do things by halves. We long for the reappearance of Bill’s robot pajamas, but wardrobe doesn’t matter. It matters that we’ve made it here, again, to enjoy the blessing that is friends.
Without my asking, Peter brings a Pajama Night drink invented just for me—the Pink Margot II. I am in a bar in my pajamas and many of the people know my name. I don’t have any idea what’s in this drink, but I know it is both bitter and sweet, which works.
Illustration by Christine Juneau
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