But what did you do all day?


But what did you do for me today?

But what did you do for me today?

When I was a young wife and mother, I never had to answer the question, “But what did you do all day?”   You see, I married a man who appreciated having a wife who kept the house organized, who made the dinners, who took care of the kids.

And for most of the years of my young mommy life, I also worked.  I juggled the pressures of a long commute, three young kids, and a teaching job.  I shopped, I helped with homework, I took care of the various allergies and asthma needs.

Paul and I shared the home chores (after a few arguments and struggles, of course; he’s only human!). Sometimes I felt like they all took me for granted, and sometimes I got pretty damn cranky.

But most nights I dropped into my bed with a feeling of worth.  I could always look back on my day and think about the hugs and kisses I’d given out, the meals I had cooked, the conversations I’d had with my precious kids.  Most nights, I felt pretty damn good about myself as I drifted off to sleep.

Then the kids grew up, and moved away.  My nest was empty.

But I still had my job. I still had my students, the children who needed my smiles and hugs and words of support.  I still had the feeling each night that I had made a small difference in the world that day.

And now here I am.  Retired before my time; forced out of the roles I loved. The kids grew up, which was in the natural order of things.  And the expectations of my school changed so much that I was pushed right out the door, well before I was finished with my teaching life.

What do I do now?

I know, I know.  In a couple of weeks I’ll be the full time day care provider for my granddaughter. I know myself well enough to know that as soon as that happens, my sense of self-worth will be restored.  Loving and nurturing a child is the greatest job there is; I know that!  I believe it, with all of my heart.

Still.   Here is what makes me scratch my head and wonder.

Why, after having raised three healthy, happy children, do I still feel that I have not earned a time of rest?  Why, after having taught and encouraged and diagnosed and treated hundreds of children, do I not feel that I have given enough back to the world?

Why do I feel, on a sunny Monday in October, that I have no right to simply sit down and read a good book?

I don’t know.

I can tell myself that I am good person, that I have made life better for a whole lot of people.  I can tell myself that I have influenced the lives of so many children over all these years.

Its just that I don’t quite believe myself.   I have to get up every single day and find a way to accomplish something.  If not, I am restless, anxious, adrift.

But I make a list of chores to do every day.  And if I cross things off my list: ah, then I feel that I have earned my time to myself. Did I shop?  Did I clean out a closet? Paint a wall? Write a story?

Did I organize a drawer, take the dogs to the vet, write to Congress, pay the bills, can some applesauce, plant the bulbs, order Christmas gifts?

I know that all of these things are tasks that should be done.  I know that doing most of them is simply a part of life.

What I don’t understand, though, is why I feel useless and unsuccessful on those days when there is nothing on the list.  On days like that, I feel that I am unworthy of the afternoon nap.  Undeserving of the time to read.   On days like that, I make things up and put them on my “list”.

“Take morning medications.”   “Walk dogs.”   “Throw away all the old socks in our drawers.”  “Repaint the garage doors.”  “Find a cure for cancer.”

My list, on days like this, ranges from the mundane to the impossible. My logic in this endeavor is to include items that I can do automatically (“Take shower”) and therefore cross off the list.  But I also always include items that no one would have foreseen, so that when I lay myself down to bed, I can tell myself, “Wow, you sure are a useful person.”

I wonder why I still don’t feel worthy of a day off?

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10 thoughts on “But what did you do all day?

  1. I live by my lists and often feel the same way. I think it’s something about the work ethic ingrained in us by hardworking parents. My mother always worked as a teacher even back in the day when I was growing up (the ’50s) when moms stayed home for the most part. I inherited that from her and it sounds like you’ve got that trait, too. I’ve been retired for over 5 years now, but I am still working and producing everyday. I call it being “redirected.” It’s great being my own boss, checking things off my list and working according to my rules and schedule. You’ll find that, too, once you settle in. And when you are Ellie’s full-time caregiver, you won’t have time to ponder all these questions, believe me!

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    • You’re an inspiration, Nancye! I need to figure out to get a small writing job or two to allow me to indulge my desire to write, let me just stay home, and still pay some bills and feel useful while I sit!!!

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  2. Just for fun consider this…
    As we ponder our to do lists, we’re traveling (earth is rotating) ~800 miles per hour relative to the center of the earth. Earth is whipping around the Sun at 67,000 miles per hour AND the solar system careens around the center of the galaxy at neary 500,000 miles per hour. My point is we should all take time to just sit and enjoy the ride.

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    • Awesome info, from one of my favorite nerds! I just have such a hard time giving myself permission to relax until I have “accomplished” something. What the heck is that about?

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