One common complaint of growing older is that the days seem to blur together. Life becomes routine: up, ready, commute, work, commute, dinner, TV, bed. To a child, time seems slower because all is new. The brain works hard as it records new memories. For many adults, on the other hand, little distinguishes any given day from the hundreds that precede it. Time is marked mostly by the heights of children (“My, how you’ve grown!”)
There is, however, a way to change this. That is to figure out the answer to this question: Why is today different from all other days?
It is an echo, of course, of the Passover question (why is tonight different from all other nights?) with a similar spur toward mindfulness but a more secular intent. Planning in adventures makes each day different in memory, or at least each week, if that’s what you can pull off.
So how to do that? This brings us to today’s reader makeover.
Mary Sue responded to my call for time logs. She has an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old, and had told me that “we weren’t prioritizing fun, memory making activities because we were just following the game, birthday party, and playdate schedule.” She said she was working on this, and was getting better, and was also trying to schedule date nights because “these things don’t just happen…unfortunately.”
She turned in her log, seeking input, but when I looked at it, I realized that she didn’t need a makeover. Mary Sue was doing a great job planning in fun. A rather ordinary week in summer featured three dinners with friends (some as a family), a manicure, an extended family dinner get-together, and even a night-time beach excursion for some playing on the sand. When I asked about this abundance of activities beyond laundry and TV, she said that “I got the idea from your book I Know How She Does It.”
So I’m going to count this as a makeover 🙂
Anyway, she reported that in the past, she had felt “like our weekends were full of driving to and from soccer with errands and TV peppered in there.” As she tried to figure out the problem, she realized that her husband wasn’t really a planner. She had been waiting for him to suggest or discuss various options, which was not going to happen. However, she had found that he was often willing to go along with what she’d come up with. The answer to changing her weekends was being pro-active. So she did four things:
1. “When I see something interesting, I either schedule it right then or schedule time to make the plan.”
2. “If friends invite us to do stuff, I work hard to say yes.”
3. “Pre-schedule date nights. My husband got us a half season of tickets at a theater. We didn’t love the plays, but we approached them as theater critics. It was a lot of fun because we would go out to dinner before the play. We are terrible at planning date nights.”
4. “Something new I am trying this soccer season is to identify weekends we can do something when I set up the schedule. Instead of worrying about finding something I really really want to do, I am finding stuff that is fun to do when we have the time.”
The net result, she said was that “I definitely feel like I appreciate the memories I’m making more.” Days are different from other days. Life “doesn’t just blur together.”
I think those are four great ideas, if they do require people to get their heads around the idea of planning leisure time. Longtime readers know I’m a definite “J” in Myers-Briggs parlance. I derive great pleasure from knowing something fun is planned in the future. With four kids, weekends can easily be consumed with random activities, so I have to be both pro-active and play defense too. I definitely do #1 on the list above. I am constantly looking for things that would seem fun, like special holiday parties at area attractions, or things we’ve enjoyed in the past (apple picking, etc.), or shows. I write these down or send myself a note. One reason to make a summer fun list (or an autumn fun list! or a Christmas fun list!) is to spur yourself to hunt for such activities. I probably err more on the side of booking stuff if I think it sounds fun. We can always not do it. I would also prefer to expand my fun budget and trim elsewhere. As we are getting a more intense sports and birthday party schedule as more kids enter that zone, I am also doing more of #4. I can see that a weekend is lighter than others so I know that’s the weekend to aim for the long bike ride through the fall colors in the Poconos.
But defense matters too. We chose this fall to pack the sports into weekend mornings. By 11:30 on Saturday we have done swim, flag football, and soccer. My husband stayed up until midnight to sign up for two Sunday morning classes at the YMCA (gymnastics and swim for 2 kids — the others go to church with me generally). Those classes fill up fast and we wanted certain ones! But the result is that we’re then done by noon both days. We can have a relaxed afternoon and do post-nap adventures. This Sunday we loaded the bikes on the cars and went to Valley Forge. We biked the loop under the beautiful September sunshine. It was great!
It is always easier not to create adventures, but as Mary Sue has been finding, they do make life more fun. Weekends do not have to be a death march of chores and children’s activities. With a little thought, they won’t be.
A side note on couples and planning: Sometimes “Js” married to “Ps” just don’t understand why their spouses don’t want to have these planning conversations. Or sometimes neither party is a real J but Mom winds up doing a lot of the scheduling because Mom takes the lead on kid activities. Sometimes this can become a source of resentment. But if, overall, the balance of labor in a household is not that bad, I would suggest trying to get over it. After all, if you’re the planner, you basically get to determine what everyone does! If you want to go apple-picking, you go apple-picking. The other person/people can always decline, but at least a reasonable chunk of time they’ll probably go along, and even if they don’t, they probably won’t sabotage things (unless the relationship has a lot more problems — but that is a different issue).
Photo: Any guesses where this was taken?