Growing up, I don’t think I had any idea of one day of the week being distinctly different from the others in a religious context. Weeks cycled around school and not much more. In college I started learning more about Judaism and began to contemplate the concept of a separate day. It was just a concept. Having no formal religious education, I didn’t know there were already specific rules set up.
Even when I learned about those rules, I wasn’t comfortable with them. No work from Friday night to Saturday night? I wanted to do theatre for a living and Friday night is sort of a busy night. Saturday rehearsals are part of a standard week. Plus, I liked going to rehearsal and opening on a Friday night. When I wasn’t at my own show, I was attending a show. It was my whole world. Why would I stop doing something I love out of obligation for something I didn’t feel particularly obligated about?
Still, there was this nagging in the back of my mind, which became louder as I transitioned out of school and into a 40 hour-per-week day job. I liked the idea of having a day that was set aside as different. I decided Saturday was going to be a day where I didn’t say “I have to.” I liked rehearsals and performance. I like writing and listening to music and shopping and going to movies and even sometimes cooking and cleaning. Each Saturday I would wake and do things I wanted to do, and it was glorious.
My system was perfect, until I met my husband. My husband kept Shabbat. When we met, he didn’t drive except to go to and from services or go out on Friday Shabbat dinners. I had heart surgery about two months before he and I met; so theatre had been on hold for almost a year at that point, and would continue to be on hold for about 6 more months. When we were first dating it didn’t affect me much – it just meant I spent Friday nights with my friends while he was doing his religion thing. As our relationship developed, he relaxed up a bit on his rules and I went to services with him about once a month.
When our oldest was born, I started attending services with more often because it became my weekly break. For three of four hours a week, someone else held and fussed over my baby and I could wander off and have adult conversations with people. This was also the time when my ‘I don’t have to’ Shabbats fell apart. We HAD to do dishes. And laundry and all the other things that pile up when you’re working (him full time, me part time) and have an infant, not to mention my chronic health issues. I didn’t clean because it was nice to live in an organized space that feels calming. I cleaned because I can’t find some stupid thing or another and maybe it’s under this pile or that pile.
In the summer of 2012 I stopped working at my day job and became a full-time stay-at-home parent. I had a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. I had a million false hopes about that amazing organized house and weekends that we would spend together as a loving family. In reality I spent most of 2013 sick and/or terrified of getting sick. Somehow, 4 years have gone by, and my Saturdays are not as full of ‘have to,’ but they’re not filled with ‘want to’ either. I seem to have fallen somewhere in between.
We now go to services almost every Saturday as a family. We wake up at the same time as a weekday despite going to bed later and struggle to get all four of us out the door looking our best without any meltdowns. My husband works a lot of long hours on weekdays at a pace he doesn’t get to set. I set my schedule more or less. I work as quickly or slowly as I want.
My head wants to send him outside to the garden after services. That’s his happy place. He controls that space and his pace within it. I get home from services and want nothing more than to sit for the rest of the day and read, but I live in a world of ‘I should.’ I look around. There’s a pile of dishes from the night before I should wash. There’s clean laundry I should fold and put away. Those are my tasks that I didn’t accomplish during the week.
Have to? Want to? Should? I have no separation from work and home life, and my tasks are always ongoing. Yet every week I tell myself had I just worked harder or smarter or more efficiently I could have gotten more done. Then I would have earned that day of rest.
For now, I’m going to try to appreciate that I have the privilege to not have an answer.
Orit Ackerman, a native Minnesotan, lives in St. Louis Park with her husband, two children and three cats. She likes to spend her time reading, drinking coffee and cooking for her blog, www.mostlyicookfood.com.