Friday, February 5, 2010

It's Not Over

Last Friday I was pleased to share with you a piece by Elizabeth Grant, one of the "21st Century Penpals" behind one of my favorite blogs, Life in Pencil.  In today's edition of Won't You Be My Neighbor, I am delighted to welcome Elizabeth's partner-in-blog, Anne.  Anne captured my attention immediately by outing herself as a "change phobe."  A fellow "planning addict," I admire and embrace her attempts to toss the pen and live life in pencil.  Anne's essays always make me think, make me smile, and make me nod in recognition - and the following offering is no exception.  Thank you, Anne, for sharing this piece with the Motherese community.

When you finish reading here, please click on over to visit Anne and Elizabeth at Life in Pencil for another helping of their musings on "living life amongst the eraser shavings."

"It’s Not Over"
By Anne @ Life in Pencil

Last time I checked, a weekend lasted 2 full days. Throw in Friday night, and you’ve got 55 hours before the weekday routine ramps up again. But if you’re anything like me, your weekend often stops short—sometime around Sunday afternoon. Not literally, of course. Only mentally—a side effect of my brain that starts worrying about Monday before I’ve given myself the chance to savor the pleasures of a lazy Sunday afternoon.

This has always been a struggle. As someone who constantly finds herself living hours, days, or even years ahead of the present, I’ve always found it difficult to get my head out of the clouds, and into the moment. When I break out the Monday to-do list and start organizing the week to come, my husband has been known to say, “Hey, why don’t we just enjoy the rest of the weekend?” Of course, he has a point. I usually smile, set down my list, and rejoin him on the couch with our books, our movies, or a little mindless TV. But there are times when my brain speaks louder than my actions, making it hard to “turn off” my anticipatory stress about the week to come.

And I’m afraid to report that it doesn’t stop there. Recently, we took a 2-week vacation to South America…the longest “break” I’ve had in over a year. It was blissful. With two whole weeks, I could almost feel the daily stressors trickling their way out of my consciousness, making room for the joy of the present. And yet, 24 hours before the end of that vacation, the symptoms of a typical Sunday afternoon crept their way into my South American bed and breakfast. I sat up in bed, and started thinking. Stressing. Making mental to-do lists. Apparently, escaping to South America wasn’t enough. I almost lost that final day of my vacation.

That final day in South America produced an epiphany of sorts. Here’s my problem: when it comes to finding the time to relax and be “present”, I’ve always had a system. I work like hell, and keep going until I find the time for a massive break. I take a week. A month. And decompress. Using this cycle, the loss of one day (due to premature worry and planning) doesn’t feel so acute. And actually, the system worked just fine during my gazillion years of school—the academic calendar actually supported my habit. I’d plug away until the end of a semester, and then bask in the sweet relief of nothingness. But somewhere along the line, I finished school. I earned my degree. And I have something called a 12-month calendar. Today, my “breaks” come in the guise of planned vacation days and short weekends. My days are simply more precious—and so my system doesn’t serve me so well anymore.

And there’s another problem. Even if I didn’t work a 40-hour week, “skipping town” (literally and figuratively) can’t always be an option when my stress level reaches its threshold. The same is true for 99% of the people in this world. We have responsibilities, and people who count on us. Spouses. Children. Dogs. Goodness knows when I’m a mother someday, my job will stick around during evenings and weekends. And so the challenge becomes turning off the worry, and turning on the relaxation. I have to believe there’s a way to be present without taking off for two weeks. Or is there?

For those of us needing to mellow out, and put down our to-do lists, what’s the solution? As a kid, I remember having “quiet time” every day, which I always believed was for my benefit. But now I have to wonder if my Mom needed it more than I did. Or perhaps I’m all wrong. Perhaps “breaks” and “quiet times” aren’t even the key. If I could simply be present—here—now—instead of somewhere in the future, I wonder if I might not need these chunks of time. If I simply lived my days and weekends one moment at a time, perhaps I’d feel more refreshed. And less desperate to escape the worry inside me.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to the talented Kristen for inviting Life in Pencil into her space. Wherever you are, enjoy your weekend. One minute at a time. And if you have solutions of your own, please share.


  1. Anne-I am a fellow traveller and my husband is like yours. I call it "Sunday Dread" and it eats up most of the day, beginning somewhere after lunch. Perhaps we should start a support group?

    Good luck w/it and let me know if you come up w/any solutions

    Delia Lloyd

  2. The key (IMHO) Is all-out denial. You simply refuse to let the present get all gobbled up by the future...'cause then you're always thinking ahead.

    My mom told me once that she practically wished our childhood away waiting for us to be potty trained or in school or done with something. I do believe it was a cautionary tale for the rest of us. Pre-planning has it's place....but at what cost?

    Surely, there's a compromise??

  3. I am exactly like you! Except I'm such a loser that a 5-day vacation for me looks like this: 1)Week before vacation, work self into a frenzy. 2)Days 1-2 of vacation, still feel so frenzied that you cannot make yourself slow down and enjoy your vacation. 3) Days 3-4 of vacation, enjoy. 4) Day 5 of vacation, work self into frenzy.

    Sigh. If you find a cure, will you send me the memo?

  4. Thanks again, Anne, for posting here today.

    I relate to the feeling you describe all too well. When I was still teaching I fretted away the whole month of August - which I thought of as a month of Sundays - with that same feeling of anticipation. And I love your insight about the act of being present as a means of alleviating the need for breaks and the drive to worry our breaks away.

    Great post, Anne!

  5. I found 'The Sunday Dreads' to be particularly acute when I was working a job I didn't like. Much like Kathryn, I found the key was a sort of denial. Or, I'll call it "compartmentalization." I would give myself a time in the evening in which I'd give myself permission to start worrying. "Okay, brain, you can't start worrying tomorrow until after dinner, at 6 pm." The hard part of being a planner and list-maker, of course, if that you LIKE going over the weeklong list on Sunday afternoon, but then the brain starts its march into worrying territory too early...

  6. I think woomen are particularly guilty of this, part of our multi-tasking mania. Age has helped me appreciate more.

  7. I know this routine pretty well myself. For me, the up-side is that I also do this at the end of the work-week. Around noon on Friday I struggle to stay mentally tuned into work. Even with a few more hours of the week left, I am on my way to the weekend. It's actually kind of fun. I feel like an unapologetic deviant within the confines of my mind.

  8. Oh, I hear you loud and clear! I live in the future too, worrying and planning, and that last day of vacation is such a struggle as reality come crashing back down. Some people have a real gift of living in the present (my husband, for one) and I'm convinced they'll live longer, more stree-free lives because of it!

  9. Thanks for the comments, folks! Clearly I'm going to have to work on denial and compartmentalization. I'll put those on my to-do list. Oh, wait....there I go again!

  10. Lovely post, Anne. And thanks for introducing us to another great blog, Kristen.
    This feeling is one I can relate to all too well. But don't forget, being a planner is a good thing! The trick is finding a balance between the positive parts of planning ahead and the negative aspects (the Sunday Dread).
    My latest lifehack is to vacuum on Wednesdays. (I know, sounds silly doesn't it?) I used to get all worked up about cleaning the house top to bottom on Saturdays. It ended up ruining a good chunk of my weekend. Now I try to vacuum on Wednesdays, or do 1 load of laundry during the week, or take 10 minutes to empty the dishwasher - so that I have a jump start on the Saturday cleaning. Breaking up the tasks in 10-20 minute chunks throughout the week has helped me *be present* on my precious weekends.

  11. Anne,
    I love your post. I think that it's almost impossible to be fully in the moment. And then when you realize you are, it's over. I think you're in the moment, content, when you're immersed in a task. (I think I read that somewhere.) As much as teaching drained me of energy, I also felt a sort of high after an interactive and intense class discussion. I was wholly involved in the moment, and I also knew I'd have a break from it later. I think that breaks are essential, even if you only give yourself a half hour at the end of the day to relax or recharge. If you're lucky enough to get two weeks, take it and don't feel guilty!

  12. Anne, For me the problem is the prep: the preparation for leaving on vacation, the preparation for leaving the vacation for coming home. Now if I only had a personal packer. And Sundays? Got to make lunches for Mondays, right?

    I will say, I've enjoyed vacations much more since I stopped full-time work. I used to be happiest when we traveled the farthest away from my job; now I take my job (writing) with me!

  13. Great questions. I want to spice things up a little and ask you a question, have you felt more anxious since becoming a mom? Because I know I have. Now I am constantly checking my mothering to-do list. It is a bit frightening.

  14. I've always enjoyed my Sunday evening planning for the week. It helps me feel like I'm starting the week with my plan in place. Maybe you should just embrace it? Or maybe I should get some help.

  15. Anne, I think you tap into something universal here, namely the inability to be here now and enjoy our moments without clouding them with anticipatory gloom of what's to come. I have no pearls of wisdom to offer. I get the Sundays too. This weekend, I am away from home with my sister and her brand new baby boy. I am doing my best to soak it all up, the compelling chaos of a family in flux, the flurry of new life, without dwelling on logistical details about my departure and what's to come next week. So hard to do. But worth trying to figure out how.

    So great to see you guest posting here! Wonderful, honest post.

  16. I don't think I realized this happening before but you are right. I am wasting bits of precious time worrying or planning or both about the future. I just sat down - yes, it is Saturday morning - to try and figure out my running/training schedule for next week as I am traveling. What about just enjoying today?

    Thanks, Anne!

  17. This post speaks to me. I push myself from morning to late night, telling myself I'm make it up with an afternoon nap later. When naps happen, they are magic. When they don't, I scrape myself through the day and it's crazy hard.

    I try meditation, trail walks and yoga, but those things are too often relegated to last place as I push other passions ahead (namely my family and writing).

    PS: South America is a lovely place; I lived i Uruguay for nearly 2 years.


Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I love hearing from you! I often reply to comments via e-mail so please make sure your e-mail address is set to "public" on your profile.