Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Gift from the Sea

My mother in law gave me a book when my daughters were born. Gift From the Sea was written in the 50s but I could not believe how applicable the concepts were to today, to my life. I felt like she was writing for me. She spoke of being a woman, a mother, a wife, a daughter. Like me, she felt like she had to do it all. She addressed the feelings of 'motherhood guilt' that we all have, that we will never be good enough, give our children enough, and that the to do list is never ending, like waves filling in a hole you dig in the sand. Motherhood in itself is probably the most gratifying and fulfilling job in the world, but in those moments where you're buried under laundry and house cleaning and social engagements and work and you're going on no sleep it's hard to get perspective.

And stepping back sometimes, removing yourself from the situation even for a few blissful moments of silence, is often the best way to get that perspective. To learn that maybe you actually do love the chaos, the way your children wrap their arms around you, the constant laughter, being needed by a child. You can reflect on what they said and how much it meant, even though when they actually said it to you may not have paid attention because you were trying to get dinner on the table. And you can forgive yourself for not being present because for goodness sakes not everyone is a master of multi-tasking!

In Gift From the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes about a woman who takes a trip to a beach house, all alone and away from her family. She leaves with a To Do list... but while there realizes that there is so much renewal and re balancing that occurs as she learns to be still, to surrender, to be open and quiet. At first she feels odd and guilty, but then she relaxes and lets it take it's course. Her thoughts and realizations inspired me and made me realize that I too needed to ensure that I regularly took time to re balance myself, to come back to center, and that in doing this, I was an even better mother and wife than I would have been if I had tried to keep doing it all without stopping to breathe. It was an important lesson early on in motherhood. A few of her thoughts:

The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach - waiting for a gift from the sea.

I believe that what woman resents is not so much giving herself in pieces as giving herself purposelessly. (My thoughts on this are that while it's hard to see purpose in repeatedly doing the never ending chores, your job is SOOOO important to your family's stability. None of the jobs are sexy or rewarding, but they need to get done and usually we are the ones to just do them. Doesn't it drive you crazy that you have to be the bad guy, the disciplinarian that is there day after day, putting in the work, teaching consistency, cleaning up the messes, breaking up the fights, and that then dad or an aunt or uncle gets to swoop in and just reap all the benefits and be so much fun? It's like training for a race. No one sees the hours you put into the training, the work that goes on every day, even when your body hurts. But without putting in that hard work, you would never make it to the finish line.)

By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacationless class.

-Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From the Sea

This last quote isn't quite as relevant today for most North American women. We have gained a lot of independence and recognition for our 'unpaid' work. We are no longer tied to the house, or at least we have a choice now. And this has been written about extensively so I won't re-circle the argument, but suffice to say that a lot of women live in a constant state of exhaustion. I learned early on that I had to run to keep myself in balance. When my kids were little, my husband knew that at the end of the day when he got home, and I had been with the kids all day, that if I was on edge he just needed to push me out the door for a run and I would come back a different person.

Of my friends and the women I know, there seem to be two general types. Most of the mothers I know fall into the first category. This woman is constantly on the run but never really fulfilled. From the second she wakes up in the morning, she is taking care of everyone else, making breakfast, cleaning up, getting kids organized, driving to soccer or ballet or art lessons. Her husband is an incredible father and balances her and loves her, but also regularly takes time for himself to golf, play hockey, go for a drink with the boys. He also encourages his wife to take more time for herself, to go away for a weekend or even just to go for a massage. But she rarely takes him up on it. She lives in an almost constant state of exhaustion.

On the other side of the spectrum, I have a few girlfriends who have figured it out and are great role models for me. They truly walk around with a genuine smile on their face. These women, for whatever reason, know how important it is to take care of yourself. Because they know they will be a happier mother, sister, girlfriend, wife if they make sure that they are ok first. And they have energy. And they know how to say no. And they can delegate and ask for help. Believe me, there is proof that stress does a lot more damage than not finishing your vegetables one night. Living in a constant state of stress and overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system will directly contribute to aging, immune system depletion, and a general wearing out of the body. Your body can't even digest food when it's in this state of stress!

The reason I'm writing this is two fold. One is because I keep meeting new moms that are completely burnt out and trying to do it all. And they just refuse to be away from their kids for any amount of time. Sure they do it all but they are so burnt out that there is not an ounce of joy left in them, or color in their cheeks. And I just want to put them on a plane to a beach. Everyone would do so much better with a little break.

Secondly, yes this is a blatant pitch for some great running vacations I'm putting together through TransRockies events. There are three to choose from depending on your goals. It's not about training. It's about vacation, renewal, learning and meeting inspiring people. It's about YOU! And it's just going to be a ton of fun.

Remember, all of life is a cycle of build and destroy. You can't go hard without stopping. Bears hibernate, snow forces the flowers to sleep. A seed will not sprout without darkness and warmth. There is recovery in rest. Sometimes we build, sometimes we destroy, sometimes we rest and reflect. All of it is important, and sometimes you just need to step out of the cycle to shift your awareness. So consider giving yourself a break. The gift of rest so that you can recover and rebuild. You deserve it and will be a much happier person when you get back. Put a little joy back into your step.