Vacation Now

Traveler Girl Walking On Tropical Beach In Sunset. Vintage Photo

I love to go on vacation. After a few days of decompressing, I switch off and relax. I sleep. I read books. I laugh. I eat good food. I spend time with the people that I love. The sole focus of the day is enjoying the next meal or activity. There are no chores or obligations. There is a quality of light and spaciousness. It is fantastic and I cherish the experience.

When I return to “real” life, I often feel like I am on a hamster wheel. I go to work. I come home. I cook. I clean. I care for my daughter. I grocery shop. I run the laundry. I chip away on the never ending “to do” list (which seems to always be getting longer). I squeeze in time for friends and family. I catch my breath. Rinse and repeat.

I was speaking with a colleague recently about his long weekend. We swapped stories about how we spent our time. I shared how I had pulled apart my garage and reorganized it. He told me how he spent time being still. Still? I asked him for more details; and he shared how he schedules time in each week to be alone. No obligations. No activity. Just rest and stillness. I was intrigued.

He explained that the key to success is to schedule it in like any other activity and then fiercely protect it. It is easy for other obligations to feel more important; but when you are drained and exhausted, there is nothing left to give. Making time to rest is ultimately a gift to those you love (and yes, he does have a young child, and he is an independent parent, so time is precious).

I have been thinking a lot about his advice and my lack of ability to slow down during my “regular” life. Why can I do this for myself during a vacation and not as an ongoing practice? I realized that there is no real good reason except habit and commitment. It does not need to be a full afternoon or long period of time to be valuable and nourishing. A half an hour, here and there, is a good place to start; and it feels much more manageable.

I am going to start scheduling in “stillness” time in each week and see how I do. I will give myself some rules, such as no phone or computer. I will focus on activities that are quiet and introspective, such as reading, walking, listening to podcasts, knitting or zen colouring: all things that I really enjoy. My ultimate goal will be to cultivate a regular practice of rest and spaciousness, so I can bring this into my daily life, rather than waiting until I crash on vacation to restore and replenish.

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A Juggling Act

Juggle

As a single, full-time working parent, I often feel caught up in a juggling act. The balls flying through the air represent my various identities – mother, friend, daughter, employee, community member – and each of them demands time, effort and attention. More often that not, a ball or two drops and I am left scrambling to get it back into the air. Then the act starts up all over again.

Life is busy and time is finite: this is a fact. As I walk along this parenting path, I am realizing more and more the importance of prioritization, self-discipline and self-kindness. I simply cannot do it all. Some things need to be set aside and let go. The question then becomes – what is most important to my family and me? What do I need to live my best life?

Most recently, I took time to evaluate my jam-packed weekend routine. After a full work week, I was jumping right into a schedule of “to do’s” on my precious days off. It left little, to no, time for being fully present and engaged with my daughter. I finished each weekend depleted and without rest; and my child was often asking for more of my attention. The worst part is there is no end to it all. As a wise friend once told me: “You will die with an unfinished to-do list.” Amen.

I asked myself – Why am I doing this? What is most important to me? After some reflection, I identified the following:

  1. To be an engaged and loving Mom;
  2. To ensure that we are eating healthy and well;
  3. To keep us safe and protected;
  4. To savour the time that I have with my daughter while she is young (and still wants to spend time with me).
  5. To cultivate more joy and fun.

I then reviewed the activities I was doing most weekends; and it turned out a lot of time was time spent on chores. I considered my list and decided other than laundry, budgeting and keeping the house generally tidy (e.g. changing sheets), a lot of it could wait until another time.

After deciding what chores to prioritize, I decided to create a standard two-week, rotating meal plan. While not as exciting as providing new meals on a weekly basis, it removes the guesswork, and it saves creative cooking for special occasions: like when we host friends and family.

I picked healthy meals both my daughter and I enjoy; I also tried to choose ones that produce multiple servings and allow for portion freezing. When I take the time to cook more labour intensive meals (e.g. Shepherd’s Pie), I know I am also investing in meal preparation offering value and time savings (e.g. two to three dinners). On a busy weekday, there is nothing better than pulling a well-balanced meal out of the freezer and putting it right into the oven.

Lastly, I started to on-line grocery shop, rather than drive to the store. Many stores offer this option now. Not only can you shop in the comfort of your own home, you can set a time to pick up the groceries for free, or have them delivered to your home for a small charge. I place my order mid-week and I track the grocery bill costs as I shop. It is much more efficient than walking up and down the aisles of a store; and my monthly grocery bills have greatly reduced since I started.

Lastly, I asked my daughter to help me identify more fun activities that we can enjoy together over the weekend. She likes to play school, build forts and dance to “Just Dance” videos on YouTube. I enjoy taking her on walks with our dog to Mt. Doug Park, Thetis Lake and in our local neighbourhood.

Although weekends are still really busy at our house, we talk, share and laugh a lot more now. The same is true for those weekday evenings where I am not scrambling to cook a meal. Even though it is still a juggle, my life is also a work in progress; and I am doing my best to evaluate, streamline and adjust as I go.

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This article was written for the April 2019 edition of Island Parent Magazine.