“My Whole Life Is HAVE To”

steve-martin“My whole life is HAVE to,” says Steve Martin’s character in the 1989 movie Parenthood; he is lamenting all the responsibilities – wife, kids, parents, house, job – packed into his life.

When I catch that movie on TBS for the 12th or 88th time (some number in the double digits), I have various reactions to this scene. Sometimes I want to hit “Gil” upside the head and lecture him that all of these burdensome responsibilities he’s moaning about are what constitute life’s blessings. Other times I silently cheer him on and think, “You’re so right, Gil! Give yourself a break. Head for Tahiti for a week (or month, or year).”

I will confess that I’m experiencing a lot of Tahiti-fantasies myself lately.

More specifically, I mentally toss around the question, “What would it be like to do ONLY what I want for a day?” (In my wilder fantasies, I broaden this time frame out to a week or even a month.)

Other than the hours of 9 to 5 when I’m being paid to do someone else’s have-to’s, I would ignore others’ needs and do only what I wanted. No need-to’s, have-to’s, or shoulds. No driving anyone anywhere. No coming up with meal plans. No touching base with anyone simply because, “Uh oh, I haven’t talked to them in a while.” No blogging on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (I would blog, except it would be when I chose to post versus on a schedule.) No making doctors appointments for myself or anyone else.  (I could check my calendar and add dozens more tasks to this list, but I think you get my point.)

There are times when doing all the above things gives me immense satisfaction and a feeling of exhilaration. There are other times that I slog through my have-to’s and feel like I’m pushing a rock uphill.

For the last several years, I have indulged this fantasy of doing absolutely nothing for anybody on the day after Christmas. I call it PJ Day and, for the entire day on the 26th of December, I remain in pj’s, watch TV, read, eat leftovers, and completely ignore everybody. Really – I’ve got them trained to barely talk to me and they certainly know not to ask, “What’s for dinner?”

It’s heavenly.

But why should I have to wait until I’m utterly exhausted after the holiday whirlwind to take a break from juggling the needs of kids, spouse, dog, family, friends, neighbors and, oh, yes, my own needs. What would it be like to juggle only one ball – my ball – for more than just the day after Christmas?

And, why does this feel like such radical thinking and so utterly self-centered as I write this? Why do I feel the urge to justify and/or apologize for these thoughts?


  • Kathleen Says:
    8-6-2009 15:30:11

    Oh, Elaine, I can so totally relate. I’m sitting in the Vegas airport now after a heavenly four-day vacation with my husband. And the best part of said vacation? Absolutely no responsibilities and I didn’t have to take care of anyone but myself. I do love family vacations, but, ahhhh, this has been relaxing. I am not looking forward to returning to reality.

  • Cindy L Says:
    8-8-2009 09:07:00

    I remember feeling like that when my son was young and still at home … seems like I lived my life around the school calendar and my writing deadlines and house chores. In the good moments, I did enjoy the busyness, too, as you noted in your post.

    In retrospect, I miss all that “structure” sometimes, though caring for elderly parents has now replaced my “Mom duty” rather quickly. So DO grab those free moments when you can, and put some leisure time in ink on your calendar.

  • Debi Says:
    8-8-2009 13:21:17

    First of all, thank you for putting into perspective and words what many of us are thinking and feeling…And, with a wonderful sense of humor.
    Though I do not have children, for the past several years, I have taken care of grown-ups, primarily, my disabled brother and elderly father. My “Dad” and best friend went to heaven May 2008…My mother immediately jumped into his role and screamed, “My turn…It’s only fair.” My brother was in a car accident Monday…Everytime I am holding one ball, my ball, and contemplating ME time, someone throws his or her ball at me!..Maybe, one day I won’t catch it. :)

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