Thursday, November 17, 2011

“Downtime Guilt”

         I couldn’t wait to start my first job as a teenager because I needed to save money for college. Somehow, that job turned into the school-work-school cycle for six years. Basically, that translates into going to school or working for more that forty hours a week. When I landed my position teaching seventh grade English at a junior high, the “spare time” I thought I’d have never occurred. Educators work constantly, and English teachers have it really rough because of the extensive amount of grading. My shift into full time employment still meant evenings and weekends tied up and very little time for “play.”
         About the time I hit my stride in teaching, my son came along, so having time to piddle dwindled to occasional evenings or a Saturday afternoon. I loved my busy life until I had my fortune told at a friend’s birthday party. The card reader’s uncanny ability to hone in on everyone’s life amazed me. She talked about one friend’s love of travel and predicted this woman would continue to voyage all over the world. She saw the tight friendship between my son and his best friend, saying they were like water and earth. Imagine my excitement when I finally sat at her table to have my cards read to me. I leaned forward in eagerness as she turned first one card, then another, and another.
She looked up at me and said a little sadly, “You work.”
“Yes,” I nodded my confirmation.
She shook her head, “No. You don’t understand. You work. That’s all I see in the cards. You work all the time. Very hard. You’re good at it, but it’s all I see.”
Tears welled in my eyes, my throat constricted. I mumbled something unintelligible even to myself and moved away from the table to let the next person hear her good fortune.
I started crying the moment I got into our car an hour later. I cried all the way home.
“What kind of fortune is that?” I sobbed. “How could there be nothing else?”
But I knew the truth. I did work all the time. I couldn’t pick up a book to read without thinking, “Hmmmm, could I use this section with my classes?” I analyzed every movie I viewed or every song lyric I heard for the possibilities of classroom application. And, if teaching didn’t take my time, housekeeping (with all endless chores) took what remained.
After that woman’s revelation, I began reading novels loaded with sex or violence. Things I couldn’t possibly use in the classroom. I didn’t bring home work every night. My students heard the phrase, “If it takes you two days to write this sucker, I should get at least that long to grade it.” I spent a great deal of class time at the beginning of each year teaching my students how to grade using rubrics, and I made them responsible for peer editing and grading. I still read every paper written by every student, but I found scheduling a few days for one-on-one conferencing actually went faster. I’d sit and chat with my students about their writing, we’d chart their progress, and I retired the red pen forever.
Little changes added up to less time spent at home grading. My obsession for a spotless house faded away in favor of evenings spent with family or friends. The good thing about children is that they actually mature into taking on more responsibilities around the house, and eventually I started having a life.
When I retired, everyone who knew me well kept predicting I’d get bored. Taking on the role of my mother’s caregiver blew that forecast into a million pieces. What I do get, though, is “downtime guilt.” My mother’s routine consists of many hours of sitting with her. We chat. We watch television. We piddle. After so many years of scheduling my hours and days, spending most of my day idle makes me feel guilty. Over the next few months, I want to relearn my attitudes about doing nothing. I want to embrace indolent hours. I want to practice laziness until I perfect it’s every nuance. I want to eradicated “downtime guilt” forever. 

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman


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