My ex-wife was happiest when she was busy, and so she always had an astonishing to-do list going. Saturday mornings she’d bounce out of bet at six and work hard and fast, a million things to do, all day. She reminded me of the episode of Gilligan’s Island where Mrs. Howell ate the radioactive sugar beets and was cleaning her hut at warp factor nine. Before marriage I had been used to leisurely Saturdays and tried to convert my wife, but she’d have none of it. She told me that she knew she kept busier than two or three people and didn’t expect me to match her pace, but still I felt a little guilty. Partly from that guilt and partly from seeing that our older home and sizable yard needed attention, I eventually found myself with a Saturday to-do list. Mine was a fraction of hers, but it seemed like it always filled the day. And while I worked, our sons would run around in the yard, watch cartoons, and ask me for a drink or lunch. Our dogs would chase squirrels around the back yard, and sometimes our Rottweiler would jump six feet up into the crotch of the maple tree after one. And the neighbor behind us would often come to the fence to hand me a leftover loaf of challah from the bakery where she worked. Man, we loved that challah! And I loved having family, pets, and friends around. But I never loved those hardworking Saturdays.
When we separated, I immediately reverted to more leisurely Saturdays. But where I used to be able to sleep until 10 or 11, now I can’t sleep past 8. And where I could fill an entire Saturday hanging out with friends, watching movies on TV, or just running around, now I’m likely to clean a bathroom, cut the grass, and do my grocery shopping first. Actually, before I married I tended to neglect the regular chores. I guess my ex-wife’s hyper-active behavior rubbed off on me for the good.
So now that I can work as little or as much as I decide to on Saturday, I miss the kids, the dogs, and the neighbors. I’m sure my problem is common among divorced men — adjusting to being alone at home so much. My sons are here every other weekend, playing with Legos, exploring the cemetery on the church property on which I live, watching cartoons, and playing video games. I put off the chores (except cutting the grass, since this parsonage sits on about three acres and woe betide me if I fall behind in grasscutting) and just try to enjoy the time with them. Maybe we’ll go to the park or the dollar store, or drive up north to visit Grandma and Grandpa, or just play Clue or Monopoly while we eat buttered noodles, my youngest son’s favorite dish. It’s not idyllic; the boys bicker and scrape their knees and get upset when I say no, just like in most families.
But sonless Saturdays seem long and maddeningly quiet. At first I filled those days with things to do that, although enjoyable, mostly kept me from having to face being home alone. All that running around wore me out and used up my reserves. So I have tried to stay home more and just face the quiet. I itched with anxiety the first few Saturdays I tried it. My mind raced with thoughts of escape. If a friend had called to say, “Let’s go see a movie,” I probably would have jumped across the room to grab my car keys. For a while, I surfed the Net a lot. I also played loud heavy-metal music on my stereo to drown out the quiet. But those things didn’t help, and so soon I decided not to act on the anxiety. I let myself feel it whether I liked it or not — and pretty soon it passed. I found that as I faced the quiet, empty house, my serenity and sense of centeredness began to grow. I began to feel that I’m okay just the way things are. To my surprise, this has helped me be more present with my sons when they are here!
Even though I’m coming to terms with being alone, sometimes while I’m mopping the kitchen or making out my grocery list on a solitary Saturday, I startle and feel a strong urge to quickly go find the boys since they’ve been quiet for so long! I’ll be glad when I can just chuckle at myself when I do that.