Responsibility Magnets by Ryan Wooley

10:52 PM. Friday July 9, 2021.

Today is a “day off”—my second in months. I get to sleep in until 7:45 AM. I get up and ready myself for my son’s double-header baseball games, which start at 10 AM. We are supposed to arrive at 9, but we are 15 minutes late due to me trying to clean the kitchen, catch up on work emails, and catch up on personal emails that are coming in fast and furious as the Kiwanis rec league season is ending. My son, Preston, is not in Kiwanis anymore, but my friend Dave is the president of the league and he asked me to be commissioner of the 13-14 league a couple of years ago. I love Dave and want him to succeed as a newish president, so I would do anything he asks. He was a model for me as a coach and was one of my son’s best.

Preston’s games today are for his travel team, for which I volunteered to be the official scorekeeper. I tend to do so for most of his baseball teams. At this point, I find it difficult to watch a game without entering every pitch and every play into an app. I would not miss a game anyway, but this duty makes missing a game pretty much impossible. Someone needs to serve as the scorekeeper.

After the games, at around 4 PM, I come home and help my wife clean the house prior to my older son Jonah’s new girlfriend from college arriving from out of state. We do not want someone new to see the house as it normally looks. There are lots of dishes and unwashed plates from last night’s dinner, which took me three hours to prepare and was served at around 8:30 PM.

In the process of cleaning and straightening, one thing I move from the dining room to the garage is a new stereo I bought for the used car we have helped my son buy prior to his sophomore year in college. The stereo has been sitting in the dining room for over a month because I can never find time to work on stuff like this. Two days ago, I just found my first day off in several months and I needed to trim all the bushes and trees around the yard, which should have been done two months ago. I did not quite get it done before I had to dash to a swim or baseball practice and now the trimmings are laying all over the yard, browning up in the hot July sun.

Back to today. In this short interval of house prep, I also furiously tear apart Jonah’s bed and put it back together to replace the broken frame that he has been sleeping on since he got home for the summer a month and a half ago. I am sweating from rushing around, but I need to grab a nice shirt because Dave (my Kiwanis friend) has called to ask if I can pick up some bases for a field that does not have any before another game starts. I do some back and forth driving to the storage locker to accommodate. By 7 PM I need to be at a field to make a short ceremonial speech and hand out trophies to the champions and runner’s up for the younger league whose commissioner has another commitment. Then I need to wait around the same park until 8:30ish, when another game finishes and I need to do the same. Meanwhile, I am now two hours late for a dinner with my in-laws. I arrive and the party is winding down, but I enjoy the cold pizza that was purchased for me after apologizing for being so late. I have driven separately, so I hang around for a bit to converse with them after everyone has left. I do not want to be rude and eat and run.

When I get to my house, it must be about 9:30PM. I see my wife, daughter, and her boyfriend struggling to make a fire in the patio fire pit. It is bad. Smoke everywhere. They are placing pieces of paper on top of the large logs and trying to light them. The grate that allows air into the bottom has been removed, and no one has bothered to remove the 3 inches of wet-caked ash on the bottom of the pan. I need to dump everything out and start over. It takes a little while, but in 20-25 minutes, the air in our town has grown a few degrees warmer, thanks to Flameous Maximus, the glorious raging fire I have created in the 2’ diameter metal bowl on my patio. I am in touch with my Neanderthal roots. I know how to make fire.

We make some vegan, gluten-free s’mores and I chit chat with my children and their respective significant others for a bit. Meanwhile, my wife has gone to pick up my younger son from a babysitting job. She gets back at 10:45 PM or so and immediately goes upstairs to bed. The other kids are starting to scatter and go watch movies inside. The youngest makes a s’more as he tells me about his babysitting gig. It was a lot to manage, he tells me. Then he leaves me alone by the fire.

I stare into the flames for a few minutes. It is a rare moment of solitude with no one needing anything, so I grab my computer and get in about 20-25 minutes on this piece you are reading. It is due tomorrow night at midnight. For the third week in a row, I will not be able to get it edited, because I cannot get these done in time for the editor to take a look. But soon I am starting to feel tired and unproductive. I pack it up and go inside. Before I go to bed, I need to make sure the dogs get let out, all the candles are blown out in the house, and the dogs get up onto the bed.

There is nothing unusual about this day. I did not pick it to describe to you because it was especially grueling. It was just full like any other day, except that this one was not supposed to include any work time (a fallacy). This was a supposed relaxing Friday off. It was also a day that theoretically had more choices embedded into it than a typical workday.

I need to be clear here. I cherish the baseball games and the time with my family. Nothing about any of this day was a chore—even the service to the Kiwanis baseball program. I do not begrudge any of it. In fact all of it makes me very happy. But, as I contemplate the day, I begin to feel a little unease. I do not see and end to these days, and I cannot get to basic needs like exercise, let alone passions that I have put on a shelf.

I have reflected on my life a lot lately, and I have come to this conclusion: I am a responsibility magnet. And I bet you are too. If you are either a parent or an educator, you are a responsibility magnet. If you are both, boy, you are in trouble. Nothing wrong with being an RM; it is noble. But it is a slippery slope, and it is not helping you get that novel written. It can be an outright addiction. I have many a retired friend who just could not handle downshifting their responsibilities and have filled their lives in with new ones. It is eerily like the Stockholm Syndrome. Time Famine is our captor, and we start to think we like him. It is habit.

If you are like me, I suggest we start pruning, start finding things to say no to. Maybe we also need to train folks to fix their own beds. What we choose not to do is actually more important than what we choose to do. When I look at the day and what it means about all my other days and the remaining time I have left on this planet, I conclude: Kiwanis must go. Sorry Dave. I just cannot see anywhere else to trim. It pains me a little to let go of a duty, and to potentially let a friend down, but this is the kind of decision I need to make. Always filling my days with responsibilities and putting everyone else’s needs first leaves no time for me—not even a little. It is a bad habit that needs shaken. It’s a monkey on my back. If I am not careful, I will let everyone else’s stuff snuff me completely out. I am not going to let that happen.

Is this you? Are you addicted to responsibilities?

Don’t be a responsibility magnet. Don’t go gentle into that good night.

9:54 PM. Saturday, July 10, 2021.

Need to get this published, so I can get to mapping out baseball tryout season for Preston. 😉