Chores and errands fill the weekends, erode the pleasure

October 23, 1994|By SUSAN REIMER

For years, my husband and I covered sports, and, like the athletes we wrote about, we worked weekends. Our job descriptions have changed, and for the first time in our professional careers and the first time in our married life, we have weekends off.

And we can't handle it.

Two children who grew up with tag-team parenting ("Is it a Mommy Day or a Daddy Day?") suddenly have more adult supervision than they want.

And two people who could go through an entire NFL season without sharing a meal suddenly find themselves with two days of togetherness in front of them -- and with two sets of priorities to be negotiated into one.

We have joined the mainstream of American life, and we are swimming much too fast. The chores and errands we used to do on our weekdays off are now crammed into Saturday and Sunday like fallen leaves in a trash bag. We are sandwiching pTC yardwork and groceries between soccer and birthday parties. And so is everyone we know.

"I spend all week waiting for the weekend, and once it comes, I am always disappointed," says a friend. "I want time to relax, talk to my husband, read the newspaper. It never happens. We are in the car running kids all weekend."

Weekends are no longer a time to recuperate or reflect. We catch up on tasks. And we substitute the demands of the workplace with a need for ourselves or our children to succeed in some form of recreation. There is no freedom in our free time.

"We are a culture of consumption of both goods and experiences," says Penn State's Dr. Geoffrey Godby, a health and human development professor who studies how people use leisure time.

"We can never own too much. We can never do too much. We are seeing the beginnings of economic cutbacks -- people are doing with less. And what I observe is people are cutting back on experiences, too. They want tranquillity, simplicity."

Adults too often avoid decisions by saying yes to everything, Dr. Godby says.

"Like children, when offered a choice between dinner and a movie, we said we wanted to do both," he says. "People are wising up."

I see this among my friends, too. When they find the weekends speeding up to catch the weekdays, they back off.

"Weekends are a good example of the either/or's in life," says a friend. "Either we do this, or we do that. We can't do both."

For her, weekends used to peak on Sunday morning with Gregorian chants on the stereo and two newspapers on her lap. Add children to the mix, and life speeds up to 78 rpm.

"Face it, the kids don't like it either," she says. "They don't want to barrel out of the house at 9 a.m. on a Saturday for gymnastics."

Her idea of a perfect weekend is "getting something accomplished so the week ahead isn't miserable, and then spending enough time with the kids so I can spend some guilt-free time on myself."

When I polled my women friends, most describe the same approach to weekends: Spend weekdays clearing the decks so you can play on Saturday and Sunday. My sister does all her housework late Friday night, for goodness sake.

They all mentioned time outdoors with the kids, too. Open space seems to defuse both the kids' energy and the tension that confinement brings out in family members. ("I don't know," says a skeptical mother of four. "To me, nature always means more laundry.")

One of my friends spent her years at home facilitating the pleasures of her family on weekends. She has returned to work as a teacher, and she is now feeling what many working women feel: this overriding sense of urgency -- soon it will be Monday.

"I have to get ready for the next week at school now, so I don't have time to go with my husband to a football game just because someone gave him free tickets. I can't afford to waste the time.

"That doesn't mean I won't sit on the porch with a friend," says my friend. "But I have less tolerance for someone else's agenda."

Pity my friend Betsy. Her husband's agenda includes hunting every Saturday. Not only does she have no help on that day, she spends most Saturday evenings cooking some dead animal for his buddies.

Her idea of the perfect weekend is very basic: "Nobody gets sick Sunday night so everybody can go back to school on Monday."

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