I was recently chatting with a friend, also a parent, who said that about every four months or so he starts to feel The Itch and knows it’s time to go off somewhere to “find himself again.” He said if he doesn’t do so, he is very aware of his inability to be the dad and husband to his family that he wants to be.
As I was preparing for my third solo getaway of any significant amount of time since becoming a mom almost seven years ago, I reflected on what this man had said. What does it mean for a parent to have “me time?” Is it necessary? By his count, I might be on my 20th retreat, holiday or otherwise personal adventure, not my third! What a decadent notion that was.
Neither of my first two trips were all-out vacations. In fact, the first was planned in a fit of desperation to cop a few nights of much-needed sleep and I jumped at a cheap airfare that took me to Las Vegas (honestly) to visit some friends and take up temporary residence in their guest room. I went to the one show they both performed in and otherwise slept the entire time I was there.
As I write this, I am in the metropolis of Montreal, having just returned from an incredible weekend in New York City. The road trip took a gal pal and me there and back within 48 hours. I am amazed at what we were able to wedge into such a short amount of time. I had few expectations aside from the obvious: experience the bustle of the Big Apple, take in a Broadway show if the opportunity presented itself, eat some incredible food and catch up with an old friend. Whatever shape that took and in whichever manner was fine with me. I had a blast, ultimately because I was in the moment.
Transferring this notion to daily life at home isn’t a big stretch. We mustn’t spend our time looking forward to next week, tomorrow or even five minutes from now. Granted, when you are taking care of children this can be a tough row to hoe. Fantasizing about a warm bath and a glass of wine in the midst of lost backpacks, unmade lunches, and stepping on toys that could simply take up residence on a nearby shelf is easy to do.
I suppose the point isn’t that this is easy work; it’s merely necessary work. As the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn recommends: “When you wash the dishes, just wash the dishes.”
The same can be applied to parenting. We must enjoy the time we are given: time to embrace that little child who is offering a hug, to live in that story we are reading, or to get down on the floor and play with the trains.
As of Day 5 of my week away, I feel myself “coming back” and have experienced many gifts that have given me pause and a renewed sense of purpose. I can now say I know the meaning of what it is to have breathing space from the daily routine of kids and family, house and work. It’s not that I didn’t understand it intellectually before, but I can now feel it in my being. And I’m certain I will go home better for it, and be able to parent better for it, too — for a while.
Then I may just have to do it all over again.
Admittedly, I spend a lot of my time thinking about how I can do things better. I’ve been told I am a frustrated perfectionist, which I think may be a slight downgrade from someone who has actually mastered the perfectionist thing. Good or bad? I’m not really sure. Needless to say, there are certainly areas of my life that I would like to be different.
For example, I wish I actually wanted to do the dishes at the end of a meal, but I don’t. And I’m not very good at focusing on one task at a time. As I write this, I am actually in the middle of doing a load of laundry, feeding my children and helping my husband with some plumbing when he needs me.
You see what I mean?
But there are definitely pieces of my life and aspects to my character that I do love. That was entirely evident to me last night as we sat around our patio table indulging in excellent conversation over barbecued salmon with cherished friends old and new.
And when I say new, I mean really new. We met them only two hours before down at the river, where we took the girls on the hottest day of the year for a quick, refreshing dip.
This young family had the same idea as us, a fast way to cool off surrounded by the beauty of the Chief in the background, rushing glacial waters and towering trees. It was picturesque, and while I was taking photos of my family jumping from a fallen tree into the frigid creek, I snapped a couple of theirs as they dipped their toes in the water and squealed in delight.
I offered to send the pictures by email if they wanted, and they said they were happy to have someone capture their first visit to the river in Squamish, their new home. Turns out they had spent the past two weeks driving across the country with their four-year-old and baby to move to our town based only on their gut feeling — and a bit of Internet research — that it would be a great place to live.
We already had plans to have friends over for supper and had a huge fish to serve. The more the merrier, we thought. And as we swatted flies away from the salad, laughing at their determination, a new friendship was forged and I felt almost giddy inside that my children think nothing of inviting new neighbours over to the house with no sense of awkwardness or social impropriety.
Turns out that despite the things I sometimes beat myself up over for not doing, I realize I also have some good things to offer and teach by example. So I am giving myself a break this week (perhaps this will become a new habit) and I would suggest that you do the same. Think about all the great things you ARE doing and teaching your children by just being your fabulous self.
Now, doesn’t that feel good?