What if sometimes the most responsible thing to do is to be totally irresponsible?
What’s your go-to escape? Whether you act on it or not, what is that your heart longs for when you are exhausted, burned-out, and when life is knocking you down over and over again?
A bubble bath? A night alone in a quiet hotel room? A day to stay in bed and read? Maybe you dream big, and it’s a trip to Hawaii?
When I reach this point in life, mine is almost always the same — hot tomato soup while vegging on the couch in front of old movies. All day.
Why tomato soup? I don’t really know. But this is a very important piece to me. It has to be tomato soup.
And . . . Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman . . . Oh, I love those old movies.
The longing for this is even greater if it’s also a rainy day.
Scott and I have functioned in a place of emotional, physical, and sometimes spiritual fatigue for most of the past year. His cancer diagnosis and treatments, followed by many months of significant side effects were difficult. But these things on top of never-ending medical problems for the kids in the midst of a life that already requires superhuman strength to pull off on a daily basis, kept us continually gasping for breath and longing for rest that sleep alone couldn’t seem to give us.
On Monday, Jaden had another spine surgery to repair a broken rod in his back and to also lengthen those titanium rods to keep up with his growth. Before we could leave the house that morning, though, Kathryn had to have an emergency catheterization because her bladder had suddenly stopped functioning, making it impossible for her to void on her own. This is a new problem that is happening more frequently, and it will probably lead to a major surgery. Once we got to the hospital, we stayed in touch with the kids throughout the day, and Kathryn seemed to remain fairly stable, although not completely normal.
Jaden’s surgery went well, but because of monitor malfunctions and a not-super-considerate nighttime staff, we only got one hour of sleep that night.
As we headed home Tuesday morning with Jaden, I called home to check on Kathryn again and learned that things were suddenly getting worse. It sounded like a possible UTI. So about a half-hour after walking in the door, getting Jaden’s pain under control, and catheterizing Kathryn again, I was on my way back to the hospital with a sterile urine specimen.
That night, as we tried to have a little homecoming celebration for Jaden, Kathryn’s pain increased, and we had to reach out to the urologist on call. Plans were made to get us through the night until we could get her to the urology clinic the next day and have a Foley placed. We did get through that night and even got a full night’s sleep.
Wednesday morning, as Scott and I were getting Kathryn ready to head to urology, Nathan had another seizure. A mild one this time, but still so worrisome as no one can figure out what’s causing these. We are trying to watch him closely until we see our neurologist again in a couple of weeks.
By the time Scott and I got back home with Kathryn that evening, a deep, consuming fatigue had settled over both of us. I felt tireder than I could remember feeling in months. I sat in the family room under my new soft, fleecy throw and looked around at my huge family. I could see the effects all of this was having on them, too. The older ones all looked so very tired. Our kids work so hard every day. And mostly they do this with joy and precision, and they are learning valuable skills that will serve them well in life. But the toll of the past year was showing on all of them, too.
Our little ones get the trickle-down effects of exhaustion from all of us who care for them, and this usually begins to manifest in them as a kind of sadness, emotional fragility, neediness, and sometimes naughtiness.
As I sat on the couch Wednesday night, I recognized that old longing for a tomato-soup-old-movies-on-the couch-all-alone day. For years, I’ve ignored that longing and just pushed on because . . . well . . . 19 kids still at home.
Then suddenly, I thought to myself, “What if we all took a tomato soup day tomorrow? Together?”
I described my dream out loud and every face in the room lit up. Every child, from the oldest child to the youngest, looked as if the weight of the world had been lifted from their shoulders at the mere thought of such a ridiculous idea.
I mean, we really needed to get back to school; and Thursday is deep cleaning and sheet-washing day at our house; and there are always the necessary daily bowel and bladder regimens for multiple kids; and the younger kids all needed baths that day.
And just meal prep alone makes a “day off” impossible. Preparing three meals a day for 21 people is hard. Just really, really hard. And the clean-up after each of those meals is like cleaning up after a dinner party — over and over and over again.
On top of all of this, Scott and I were supposed to be eating on our Whole 30 plan (which doesn’t include creamy tomato soup!).
Then, when I said emphatically, “We’re going to do it! We are going to try to shut out the entire world and just stop everything and rest. We need a bit of a reset,” it was like beautiful, fresh air and sunlight poured into our room through the huge glowing smiles of excitement on the kids’ faces.
One of my rules for our Tomato Soup Day was no planning! Well, as little planning as possible, anyway.
Planning is maybe the most exhausting aspect of my life. I’m a natural planner/organizer, and this is a good thing if you just happen to grow up and become Mom to 22 children. Because everything about running a household this size takes constant planning.
But it can be a curse, too. My brain never, ever stops. Most of the time, it’s even still working in my sleep. This is proven by the fact that I even plan in my dreams. Pretty much 24 hours a day, I feel like that circus act. You know, the one with all those plates balanced on those long sticks, spinning, spinning, spinning?
Except that our daily schedule is an always-evolving thing because of so many “unexpected’s.” So I also have to constantly be shifting plates from here to there while continuing to balance and spin them.
I wanted to put all of those plates and sticks down and rest my arms for a little while. Just a little while.
So, Thursday morning we started our totally wasted day. It did require a little bit of planning, though, to get it started. The kids were a little lost with no schedule, and just stood around in the family room looking at me.
Ok. How do we do this?
- Forget the house cleaning today, but let’s go ahead and get the sheets washed. Everyone work together to get them back on the beds as they come out of the dryer throughout the day.
- Forget the kids’ baths. They don’t smell that bad yet. We will have to keep up with the every-three-hour catheterizations and keep Kathryn’s Foley bag emptied and do all of the necessary bladder/bowel routines. But no baths.
- Punt school. One more missed day won’t change anybody’s futures.
- No cooking at all. Everyone needs a day off in the kitchen.
- We can’t watch only old movies, because they aren’t that entertaining for the younger kids, so we’ll also pull in some Hulu and Netflix.
From the beginning, the kids were beaming, and Scott got into the spirit of things by introducing the kids to Matlock right away. We were off to a good start.
Three of the teens asked to bake cookies with the M&M’s a friend brought to our house the day before. This baking and clean-up represented fun to them; not work. So, in spite of the fact that we have cut way back on any kinds of sweets here, I said, “What the heck! Bake away!”
As the morning really got going, I decided to introduce them all to That Girl — my absolute favorite TV show when I was a kid. I mean, I loved Ann Marie and her boyfriend Donald Hollinger. For much of my childhood and pre-teen years, I wanted to be her!
We all got comfortable with our fleece throws and watched episode after episode, the little ones giggling their heads off on the floor, the teens sometimes rolling their eyes at Ann’s antics, and Kathryn snuggled in beside me on the couch looking up from time to time to just smile at me with joy and stroke my arm or face. She clearly felt that all was right in her little world.
And it rained outside, which made the whole day even more delightful!
At lunch time, we ordered tons of tomato soup from Panera. Thanks to a recent surprise financial gift, this was the first pay period in many months we hadn’t run out of money before the end. It was pay day again the next day, and we still had money in the bank!
After lunch in front of more episodes of That Girl, everyone ate one cookie then quickly did a clean-up (which involved gathering everything up and throwing it into a garbage bag).
Then we settled in to watch the awesomely classic movie, Holiday, while the rain poured outside. Oh, Kate shines in that one! And the magic between her and Cary Grant! Love, love, love it! The little ones did puzzles on the floor and the older girls held their breath and hoped that Johnny and Linda would end up together. The older boys hung in there with us.
After this movie, we ordered Chinese noodles for dinner and spent the rest of the evening watching episodes of The Flash.
Another garbage-bag clean up, and then we all went to bed feeling happy, peaceful, rested.
I was unsure about sharing this day with the outside world. Partly because it was so private; so personal; so special for just our family.
And partly because I know that many people will feel that we acted irresponsibly.
To throw a whole day of school away?
To sit in front of a television all day!?
To set an example for our children of such laziness and shirking of responsibilities?
And to be SO wasteful with money?! We had food in the house that we could’ve prepared for meals. And money is not something handled lightly around here. There’s almost never quite enough of it, and when there is a little extra, there are always places it needs to be used. So to throw it away on restaurant tomato soup and Chinese noodles?!?
I have to be honest and admit that I did wrestle with some guilt as I tried to fall asleep the night before our planned wasted day. But before I finally closed my eyes, I decided a few things.
- My head said this was irresponsible, but my heart said this was so very right. I chose to go with my heart.
- We try hard to make the right decisions about things like this, and we know that we will never please everyone out there who watches us live such a public life. And we know that we will never get it right all the time. But God knows the desire of our hearts, and He doesn’t expect perfection from us. If we truly examined this and felt it was the best thing for our family, but then someday discovered that we had been wrong, well, I knew that God’s mercy and love would always hold us close to His heart anyway.
- If we were going to do this, we were going all in. I wasn’t about to throw away this opportunity to waste a day and not get everything out of it that I could.
So I threw off that guilt and embraced our plans for a mostly-no-plans day.
And now that it’s behind us, I have no doubts at all that we were right to do this.
It was so much NOT a wasted day!
I lost count of the times the kids came to us just to tell us how much fun they were having.
I’ll never, ever forget the joy on their faces all through the day.
The peaceful, restful looks on the older kids faces alone confirmed that it was time for a rest. It was important that Scott and I acknowledged how hard they work by giving them a day to rest, and it was critical that they all catch their breath a bit.
And I know from 35 years of parenting that the memory of this day will live on with all of them forever. Somehow, this will be important. I can’t explain how I know this, but I’m sure of it. It will be something that they all look back on and draw strength and joy from throughout their lives.
They have all asked that we try to work Tomato Soup Days into our lives on a somewhat regular basis. And we have promised to try to make them happen at least a couple times a year from now on.
Maybe the whole world needs to take a Tomato Soup Day. Just stop everything for a day and reset.
I hope we are teaching our kids important lessons about balance. About stopping to breathe sometimes. About the things in life that are truly important — family, spending time together, laughter, rest . . .
Maybe we would all be much better off if we occasionally chose to waste an entire day here and there. And ate more tomato soup. And watched more That Girl and old movies.