At this time of year, a lot of my conversations start with “So, are you ready for the holidays?” My conversation partner and I then assess one another’s tired eyes and harried appearances and continue to the universal “I hope you find some time to relax.”
Ah, hope. That thing with feathers that perches in the soul.
So beautiful, so optimistic…
So easily devoured by things that creep in on little cat feet.
Nope. Not fog. (Sorry Mr. Sandburg.)
I mean chores.
Child-rearing and house-cleaning and blog-post-writing and errand running and PTA volunteering.
I know I used to be able to relax.I used to waste whole afternoons doing nothing but day-dreaming. I’m not sure what changed to make me so conscious of the to-do lists in my life that it became hard to enjoy downtime. I’ll just blame it on the fact that I’m: (and here, you can take your pick or add your own)
- a mother
- an habitual overachiever
- middle class
- a multi-tasker
- a few neurotransmitters shy of normal
- surrounded by amazing women who set a pretty high bar
Whatever it is for me – or for you – what it adds up to is a sense of guilt and anxiety in the background even when enjoying well-deserved fun or relaxation. The level of guilt can range from a niggling nudge to full-fledged parochial-schooler panic (“I’ve let down Sister Immaculata AND the baby Jesus!”)
My coping mechanism – and I’m not promising that this is healthy, or works for everyone – is to make sure that any time I’m relaxing, I’m also getting something done. Honestly, it’s easier than it sounds. Between 21st century technology and good-old semantics, I’ve got this thing covered.
- Soak something. I don’t care if it’s the grilled cheese pan or a stained onesie. Warm water and a squirt of Dawn, maybe a shot with the Spray-and-Wash, and I can blissfully watch an episode of Bomb Girls on Netflix, secure in the knowledge that I am “cleaning.”
- Research. Ah, the amazing perks of being a writer! Anything I read becomes “research.” I can curl up with a bestseller, a classic novel, or a stack of gorgeous picture books and pat myself on the back for all the writerly research I am conducting.
- Baking. Thank goodness for banana bread (350 degrees for 55 minutes.) Once it’s in the oven, I can relax. Something is turning from mush to goodness and it is because of my efforts, so yep – I’m working. I’m providing sustenance for my family (while putting on nail polish and singing along to Christmas carols.) Heck, the mixing bowl is soaking in the sink. Take that multi-taskers!
- Yoga. Taking care of my body, so that it keeps working right, is an important job. I’ve found yoga class to be such a wonderful way to relax, center myself, and feel good about the work of building a stronger, stretchier, more balanced me. For some people running or swimming might fill the same niche – but I never really found that groove until I started yoga.
- Snuggles. My kids come home from school craving cuddles (OK, 2 out of 3 of my kids.) I used to feel guilty about the time spent snuggling when there was homework to do and instruments to practice and dinner to make. I’m WAY over that. What my kids – any kids – need most is daily physical and verbal affirmation that they are loved, cherished and important. That’s my most critical job. Luckily, it recharges me, too!
- Planning. I resisted Pinterest as long as I could, telling myself I did NOT need another screen-related time suck (thank you very much Facebook, twitter and WordPress!) I didn’t realize how well it combined the fun of window shopping or leafing through magazines with the functionality of making real, shareable plans. Now I guiltlessly kick back with a cup of tea and browse adorable crafts – which I then share with the other 1st grade room mom. Class holiday party? PLANNED.
- Running a machine. Yup, if the dishwasher or washing machine and dryer are going – I’m working. That stuff doesn’t just load and unload itself. Although if it did…wow! think of all I could get done without ever leaving my bed!
- Learning. As a child, I was blessed with parents who valued learning and a curious, insatiable mind. Perhaps that is why I believe it’s the responsibility of each person to be educated and aware of what’s going on in the world around them. To me, watching a documentary, listening to public radio, visiting a museum, is like having my cake and eating it, too. I’m fulfilling a civic duty to be an informed citizen of the world – AND I’m having a good time.
- Get an oil change. OK, here’s where the semantics REALLY come into play. I figure if I’m getting the oil changed, then technically I’m “performing routine maintenance” – and that means I’m getting something very important done. Now I can play Cut the Rope the whole time the mechanic is working without a twinge of guilt.
- Reading with the kids. This is really the best one. I pretty much had kids just so I could cuddle up on the couch with a big fluffy blanket and read story after story after story. It is incredibly good for them. It is incredibly enjoyable for me. Win-win every time.
While I wrote this, the dishwasher and laundry were running – so I have totally earned a worry-free nap. Hope you find some time to relax!