I was a major nerd in college. Well, in high school, too. And I still am now. I guess I've always been a major nerd. But college sticks out as my prime-time nerd years, perhaps because that's when I found so many members of the nerd tribe. Also, my college-level nerdiness was combined with a serious amount of uptightness that made it all more acute; I never pulled an all-nighter, usually had my papers done early, I didn't have a drink until I turned 21, and for every Saturday night I went out with friends, I spent two Saturday nights doing homework. For real, people, for real.*
In addition to being nerdy and uptight, I was also not terribly self-aware. I had plenty of emotions, but few tools for expressing them. I certainly didn't have any conscious awareness of treating myself with kindness. And yet, despite that, I paid myself a weekly kindness throughout college: No Work Fridays.
Friday was the night I never did homework and never studied. I'm sure I made exceptions during finals week and such, but for the most part, I gave myself the luxury of not putting any pressure whatsoever on myself when Friday rolled around. I had no guilt about getting $5 out of the ATM (yes, the ATM gave out money in $5 increments back in ye olden days of my undergraduate years) and spending it all in one place, watching a G-rated movie (or an R-rated movie; I was 18 and all), going to bed early, or reading a book for pleasure. I loved Fridays, not necessarily for the actual activity I engaged in, but for the total letting go of responsibility and mental freedom that I gave myself by putting everything aside once a week.
I thought about No Work Fridays today when I was out to lunch with my mom. I announced to her that after the kids went to bed, I was going to do nothing. Just relax. Maybe watch some TV, maybe read, maybe take a bath. Maybe all three. But I wasn't going to do chores or putter around the house or anything that might be considered vaguely productive. Oh, no. I was going to take the night off.
How did that work out for me? I've had a great evening, but I haven't exactly taken the evening off. I finished touching up the living room paint job that friends helped me complete earlier in the week, put the furniture back where it belongs in that room, unpacked some boxes, cleaned up the painting supplies, cleaned up from dinner, set the timer on the coffee maker, talked myself out of doing a load of laundry, and broke down some boxes. Now, at 9:30 p.m., I 've made myself a drink, eaten some salad, and I'm about to get down to the real relaxing. We'll see how long I last before going to sleep.
I was very aware as I was futzing around that I wasn't relaxing as I had planned. I thought about those Friday nights in college, and I thought about how surprising it was that I somehow knew to be kind to myself and to take the pressure off on a regular basis. And I thought about how I'd like to start doing that again. I have a suspicion, though, that No Work Fridays look a lot different at 39 than they did at 18**. While I was working away tonight, part of me wanted to just put it aside, go upstairs, and gear up Netflix Instant. It wasn't guilt or a feeling of obligation that kept me from doing that, though. There was a bigger part of me that is so in love with my house that it doesn't feel like work, exactly, to do things like paint and make the living room feel settled. That kind of "work," which would certainly have sounded like real work to me when I was a student, is now more like indulging a hobby.
What I need and want now are No Stress Fridays. For the part of the evening that I spend with Maddie and Riley, we already have a good no-stress routine in place: Fridays are always pizza and movie night. No one has to make decisions about dinner (or cook it), and the movie allows for some coveted screen time to be combined with snuggle time. Once they are in bed, it's time to make Fridays into the day when I do what I want to do around the house, be that take care of some house-related task or soak in the tub for three hours. It's time to get back to taking the pressure off myself and to stop thinking about all the Shoulds. It's gotten so hard for me to do that, but it's important. The world will not stop spinning if I don't make the grocery list tonight. Nothing bad will happen—in fact, good things might happen!—if I allow myself to do what I want one night a week.
And on that note, Netflix Instant awaits.
*In graduate school, we did a learning style/personality type test that revealed that I am successful at most things I do due to dogged determination. I just work as hard as I have to in order to succeed. I am not always, or even often, the smartest, fastest, most capable, etc., but I am almost always the most determined. My college study habits are testament to this.
**I was out clothes shopping today and noted that even though my weight is pretty much what it was in college, my ass sure looks a lot different at this age, too.