I always joke that my lists have lists, but, in all honesty, it’s not a joke. Post-it’s are my love language and I manage my life one check-mark at a time. So, imagine my delight, when someone invented the “summer bucket list.” I came in hot with my first list. We created it as a family and added cute little pictures next to each activity. We actually constructed it on a giant, chart paper-post-it and plastered it as a shrine to our summer. We , (or more me) were downright giddy as we completed each mission. And, surprisingly, I was not disappointed when little squares were left unmarked. Our tradition continued the next couple of years and then this year came in like a lion.
For some reason, life was piling it’s matter on me quicker than I could put it on June’s to-do list and problem solve. I can’t quite put my finger on the exact item that tipped my tower and made me feel overwhelmed but never the less I was. The stress I felt was palpable. I was getting physically ill with a cold and fatigue was making it hard to complete the most menial of tasks. I was slipping into a hole and I would be damned if a minute of my precious summer would be lost. So, I clawed and climbed and made my way into the summer sun…sort of.
My work buds and I rented a bike to take around Syracuse. I was so excited for this day, yet when it came, I was struggling to stay present. I even had to leave because I could barely hold a conversation. Brain fog is real life. That same evening I found out two of my 3 kids were very sick and we were going camping in two days. “This summer would not be ruined by illness or fatigue” is the narrative I told myself. I now know, this narrative is fiction, because to believe you can control the world’s woes, is delusional.
We did all the right things. We rested. We called the doctor to make sure camping was a go (even though my gut told me something different.) I called the campground to reschedule but hung up when I was put on hold. We decided and undecided. We made the camping list and we stayed true to our plan to make this the most incredible first weekend out of school. We tried to will “the very best first camping trip ever”….except that it wasn’t.
It poured. Number one camp ruiner ever happened on the first day. I knew it was a possibility but we had zero boredom busters to relieve it. Back in the day we’d just drink and play Jenga. No bueño when kids are in the mix, that just makes life harder. I felt terrible that it was raining. I was so mad, so disappointed, so not making lemonade with all my lemons. I spent a lot of unnecessary energy thinking how I could have picked a different weekend, or stayed in a hotel instead of a cabin. I basically went over all the ways I fucked this trip up…..then I was so tired from the mental boxing match, I napped. It was a 2 hour rainy snuggle fest next to my sick boy and it was pretty delicious. Sometimes when your down, the best feeling is to sink into it ….I eventually peeled myself up, awoken by a tender husband kiss and vowed to fix my foul mood. Only, too bad for me (as my girl Junie B would say) because the roof top pizza place we went to was serving wine in plastic cups made for beer pong and I tend to slip into old ways. That means fixing my mood by drinking and partying. As afore mentioned, that just made everything harder and I was asleep by 7:30….Leaving me to wake up at 3:30 in the pitch black with no where to go except down the dark endless hole of anxiety. So that was fun. We packed it up and packed it in the next morning and before leaving, Calvin made me buy the ring I had been eyeing the day before.
After mountains of laundry, long hot showers and heavy eyelids, we went to dinner on the water back at home and played a game. I asked Calvin on a scale of 1 (having to go to school in the snow when everyone else is off) and 10 (the best day you ever had) what he would rate the trip that seemed like an epic flop in my eyes. He said infinity! Freaking infinity people! I had blanked on our s’mores and Pokémon hunt. I had minimized our quaint children’s book store linger and the trinket search which landed me a sweet little ring. My perspective was skewed. When Bobby also agreed that the trip was awesome, the surprise I felt shook my core like a magnitude 6.5. How in the world was I so out of line with my family’s experience?
Monday morning rolled in and before my eyes were even fully opened, I promised to fix my fun failure by making a list of all the things we would do right. I would problem solve the shit out of my situation and make everything grandiose again. And again, for the bazillionth time I was wrong.
When I sat in the chair across from my therapist, tears immediately started multiplying. I hadn’t seen that coming. Usually, as to not waste her precious time, I easily can turn off the faucet, but on this day, I had sprung a leak. I cried for the ways the trip went wrong. I cried for picking the wrong weekend, for the weather, for drinking too much to try to lift my mood, for sleeping and resting, for falling short of what camping was “supposed” to look like. My therapist told me that shaming my self for not being able to control: rain and exhaustion and illness sounded ridiculous ( I added narcissistic) and that my high expectations were unattainable.
Unattainable expectations. Wow. I left there recognizing it. Two weeks later, I’m still deconstructing them. The why is deep rooted, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that, in the most literal sense, I am stealing joy from myself. Lists and expectations allow me the illusion of control. But they also stop me from being present. So rather than enjoying the moment I am too busy fretting over why the moment isn’t more perfect and how I can make it better in the future. And that’s why I threw out my Summer Bucket List.
I actually paid money, real live money, to get suggestions for things to put on our summer list. I tossed it aside. I haven’t made a plan yet. And it’s a good thing because summer pneumonia, which I’m currently recovering from, wasn’t on the list. Side note: could all the stress from trying to construct the perfect summer be what caused me to be sick? Maybe? Probably didn’t help. Instead I’ve made a reverse bucket list. One that celebrates all we have done, big and little. Life is made up of teeny moments and I’m starting to learn that when I try to decide how those moments will go ahead of time, I undo the magic. I explain how the bunny is pulled from the hat before I even perform the trick.
Today we will go to the market. And maybe someone will shit their pants and we will have to abandon all our treasured treats? Maybe we will bring home a puppy. (doubtful but a girl can dream) Maybe we will find fresh hot donuts and share them with a laugh. Or maybe someone will shut their finger in a door and ruin the whole experience (actual example from something that happened at a pizza joint last week) The thing is I don’t know and to assume I can prepare for anything is unrealistic. Also, Why would I want to? There is so much delight in spontaneity . So here’s to my new plan. The no-plan plan. The plan where I plan for anything and try to control nothing. It’s new, hard and uncomfortable and I can’t wait to place a check-mark next to it on my little reversed summer bucket list.