The other morning, I looked out my front window and saw a fat, gorgeous tabby laying in my driveway. She had that luxurious sprawl going on that only cats can master — arms stretched, body twisted like an odalisque in a sinuous, furred line. She yawned, then rested one paw on the pavement while lazily surveying the world around her.
I envied the hell out of her.
She looked restful and content, but also just generally untethered by life. Like the feline equivalent of Matthew McConaughey. (It’s telling that when I was thinking of a celebrity equivalent for this laissez-faire level of chill, I couldn’t name a single female celebrity that embodies it.) What I wouldn’t have given to curl up next to Catthew McConaughey for a few hours in the sun. But of course, I shook myself out of it, and went back to packing my daughter’s lunch and flipping through my Google calendar for the day’s appointments.
How did I get to that place of wanting to, literally, manifest myself into the body of a stray cat? My reasons may sound familiar: a few years of treading carefully through the treacherous waters of a pandemic, battling divisive politics and the slow erasure of human rights, regarding my own career as a kind of slip-and-slide where I end up flat on my ass more often than not. And I’m one of the very lucky ones that did not lose a loved one or an income. What I mean to say is that I am burnt out. We are all burnt out. And we have been for some time.
Yet along the way, like a terrible chant in our heads, is that old phrase they hammer into kids: Be the best you can be. Well, I do not have the energy to be “the best” at anything at this moment, thank you very much. I haven’t for some time.
According to the hashtags, last summer was supposed to be Hot Girl Summer; for me, it decidedly wasn’t. I still felt the pall of, well, everything. I really wanted to haul out my best bodycon dress and sip margaritas with my best friends on a rooftop. I also had big plans of writing a bestselling romance novel and getting into hiking and learning to make sweet potato gnocchi from scratch. But I just couldn’t get it up for anything more than mere survival. And afterwards, when the cool reality of fall set in? I felt a little ashamed that I didn’t carpe the diem out of that shit. Sounds a little convoluted, right? Feeling guilt for not having the kind of fun social media told you that you should be having.
This summer, though, I’m not hoping for #thebestsummerever. I’m just hoping for #aboringsummer. Because to me, boring means no death knell, no terrifying shootings, no outsized anxiety about our kids’ future. My expectations have sunk very, very low. As for my own personal agenda: I’ll be enthusiastically, unequivocally embracing mediocrity.
So what does that really look like? Well, I’m going to channel the fat cat on my driveway. There will be no big, lofty goals to meet, and certainly few appointments outside what is necessary or joyful. My daughter and I will let our days unfold the way we want to, for once. No craft projects involving a thousand toilet paper rolls or air clay that sticks under our nails (unless we want to). No workbooks. We’ll eat sticky popsicles and sometimes forget to shower. We’ll sleep in. I’m going to try not to check my phone nearly as often. And if we arrive at a point where we can’t think of a single eventful thing that happened that day? Well, I’ll count that as a success.
Somewhere along the way, I forgot that summer is supposed to be a time of rest for kids — and parents. Of course, we are all still obliged to live in ways that sustain us and our families, providing meals and shelter and some level of entertainment. We’re still going to listen to our kids and kiss boo-boos and celebrate birthdays. We’ll just do it with a little less expectation. I also know not all parents are able to take the step back that they wish they could. But surely we can all ease a bit of the pressure on ourselves in terms of what is unnecessary to daily life?
In the fall, things for me will go back to some degree of normal productivity and personal goal-setting. I will get the sight words back out and set the alarm and go back to my terrifying to-do lists. After all, #aboring summer is not supposed to last forever. But for a few weeks at least, we can all aspire to a little more mediocrity.
I use the word mediocrity, but in reality, there’s nothing mediocre about prioritizing your mental health or storing your power for when you really need it, like one of those superheroes from the old-school arcade games. In these circumstances, the act of survival is the most extraordinary thing any one of us can do.
Thao Thai is a writer and editor based out of Ohio, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Her work has been published in Kitchn, Eater, Cubby, The Everymom, cupcakes and cashmere, and other publications. Her debut novel, Banyan Moon, comes out in 2023 from HarperCollins.