Break The Rhythm and Get That Much Needed Self-Care
I’m a huge advocate of vacation time and have been sharing the science and stories of vacation’s benefits for twenty years. But until this past month, I had not taken a real vacation since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like many businesses, our small training firm took more than a year to fully right itself after the impact of the pandemic starting in 2020, and I skipped that year’s holiday. Last year we moved during my vacation, which absolutely disqualifies that time as being helpful or restorative. So, as this year came to an end, I was excited to settle into over two weeks of true and pristine off time (fully disconnected, of course). I set my autoresponder and logged out of everything.
For the first time, our family planned a staycation, which I discovered has upsides and downsides. After a year of some family challenges, we needed true ease and restoration—not packing, airports, and adjusting to new beds. We wanted to wake up, put on robes, hang out, cook, and play board games. It was great not to make any decisions (this was a huge benefit), and it was satisfying not to tire ourselves out with the hustle that even the best travel contains. But the upsides were met with some downsides.
Three Challenges to Leisure
A combination of factors created totally obvious but unexpected demands on our staycation, especially for me.
First, it was hard to not work on the house. I’d had so many organising and nesting projects in our new home that I’d not had time for, and they called to me in the open, white space-time of staycation. Some of this getting-things-in-order was nurturing for me and would help set us up for a lovely year. But others were the call of busyness whispering in my ear and tempting me away from truly restful time.
Second, it was Christmas (said the Jewish girl). My father was married to a Catholic woman for many years before my mother, and a big Christmas has always been part of our tradition. The decorating, baking, parties, present buying, and wrapping are fun but only partly so. They take work, and I’m the one who drives that train around our house. These are more excuses for me not to fall asleep in the middle of the day reading a novel.
Third, my kids were still there. I adore my kids, but even at 13, 15, and 17, they still present a constant stream of needs, questions, empty bellies, issues, fights, and feuds.
The oven and heat both broke, and repair professionals needed to be called. This necessary domesticity was intruding on my clarion call for . . . leisure! Leisure! Leisure!
The Birth of the “Out-of-Town Day”
I took my moments and let the chips fall where they may. A little reading. A little baking. A little catching up with girlfriends on the phone. Trivia night, window shopping, and morning walks at sunrise were all part of this year-end mosaic of restoration. But it was not enough. I found these interludes were too brief because something or someone needed me after a while.
By week two, I saw the problem more clearly. When I travel for work, I get a break from parenting, but I need to work. When I’m on vacation, I get a break from work, but I need to parent. I wanted something else—a third thing that was neither a work trip nor a vacation with family. I yearned to stop being helpful and relax, and so did my husband, who had his own list of whispering to-dos, like the end-of-year tax wrap-ups, insurance tasks, and issues with the car.
And then the idea came, the idea that my husband and I fell in love with.
We would each go out of town—but go nowhere.
How to Go “Out of Town” But Go Nowhere
Allow me to explain. Since our kids were little, both of us have traveled for work, and it’s a familiar thing in our household to have a day with only one parent in town. We told the kids that each of us was going to take a full day—from waking to bedtime, “out of town” and that they were not to speak to us or ask us anything on that day. The “out-of-town” parent would not solve problems, shop, cook, clean, help, or give advice in any way. They would get a complete break from both work and domesticity.
And boy, oh boy, did this idea work. My husband took his day first and was a ghost from 8:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. He loved it so much that he asked if we could do it again three days later.
On my delicious, wonderful Out-of-Town day I:
Called an old friend
Sat in the sun
Took a long bath with candles and a book
Ate dark chocolate (and no one asked for a piece)
Did my nails and had enough time to actually dry them
Organised my closet (almost a slip but highly pleasurable)
Ignored seven requests from my kids when they forgot something
And I had some time to also take care of the personal needs and to-dos that always get pushed aside for work or family. This category of action was not leisure but an act of self-care. The whole day was ecstatic and restful and completely hit the spot. My hubby and I each plan to take an Out-of-Town Day once a month, and we can hardly wait for the next one.
This exercise highlighted for me in such a powerful way how perilously hard it is to find leisure in this busy world (even if you are an anti-busyness expert) and how much structures like an Out-of-Town Day can help.
The metronome of do, do, do is deeply ingrained in most of us, and breaking its rhythm requires help, structure, and support—and maybe a little sangria, which I just noticed that I forgot and will definitely add in next time!
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Racheal Kwacz, Child and Family Development Specialist joins us this week to discuss the modern working mother, how it applies to fathers and why workplace culture plays a role that translates across all channels.