Pretend You Are On Vacation.
It's August 28--I think. Who knows? The kids are back in school. The last few weeks have consisted of marching band and show choir camp, new student orientation, registration, dentist appointments, physical therapy, doctor visits, pharmacy runs, forms forms forms, school supply shopping, laundry, haircuts, Target runs for socks and marching band socks, signups, practices, volunteer signup requests, and kid requests for new glasses, shorts, pants, sweatshirts, lunch supplies, lunchboxes. Not to mention one kid is trying to keep pace with college applications.
Now that the offspring are actually at school during the day, I'm at times lulled into thinking all of this will get more predictable and easier to manage. But it doesn't. Because yesterday people came home with planners to sign and fractions problems and tears that reminded me to text the tutor. I had to run to Target for the socks and marching band socks and dish soap. (And dark chocolate for me! We were out of chocolate!) Also, and truly horribly, someone took their morning meds at bedtime and did not sleep a wink. Five-thirty a.m. at our house? Me with a hand on an overly-medicated and distraught kiddo, whispering prayers into the dark and hoping she'd get 1.5 hours before it was time to get up for school.
But, my middle-class back-to-school parenting experience is not that atypical. (I also recognize how privileged I and my family are to be able to even entertain these problems. We are not dealing with massive health crisis or job loss or economic instability.) So many of us are filling out the forms, negotiating what purchases are necessary now and what can wait til next month, as well as soothing little souls in need of adjustment to new routines and teachers. Some of y'all are just pros at rolling with the ups and the downs, the med mixups and the forms and the volunteer requests and new-school-year meltdowns. You've got the Chill Gene, or you've learned something about stress resilience in a crazy, mixed-up world. Either way, I envy you.
It just so happens I've been learning more about myself this summer--about what makes me tick and why (thanks in part to Jesus, the Enneagram, and this book). And in my self-discovery, I've made the astounding conclusion that not everyone feels their throats constrict when their kids bring home a field trip permission form or a flipping planner to sign. Not everyone's hearts start pounding as soon as "Hey Siri, remind me to call pediatrician" is added to the list of reminders currently on the iPhone.
But mine does. It has for years. In fact, I'm beginning to think my whole life since 6th grade has consisted of one long list I'm always racing to finish, and finish early, so I can catch my breath before the next thing is due. (Surprise twist: I never catch my breath.)
This summer's revelation? While this might be common, none of it is normal, least of all healthy.
Now, in defense of this adaptive stress mode, it sure does come in handy. My husband, who doesn't stress out about nearly half of the things I stress about, also generally doesn't remember half of them either. Stress gets the job done. Keeps the kids fed. Gets the prescription medications to the school nurse on time with the proper forms. But chronic stress mode is killing me--metaphorically speaking of course, but maybe literally a little bit every day.
Also, okay, I know this has mostly been about me, but I'll drop the charade now and say I know so many of you dear parents are in chronic stress mode, too. It's partly due to the invention of the uber-busy, child-rearing middle class that turns hobbies into commitments or chores. Does your five-year-old love dance or baseball? Sign them up for the competitive track! You'll only be at the studio/field eight hours a week! Oh, he or she wants to do gymnastics, too? Great, do that on your free days. But wait, you have THREE kids???! While this might be okay for some families, kids and parents, I can tell you, it's not for everyone. The mamas I'm talking to are thinking twice these days before signing up. Some of them are ready to revolt.
And, it's not just parenting in suburbia that is like this. Education, the marketplace, pastoring and church administration, for goodness' sake, have all gone this way. It's like we were all on a treadmill clipping along at a reasonable pace, and our fingers, entirely disconnected from our brains, kept hitting the up arrow to increase our speed. And now we've got side cramps and can hardly breathe.
I don't know about you, but I need to jump off the treadmill. Need to revolt with the other mamas. Need to retrain my body to not go into fight or flight mode when I see a paper sent home by the 4th grade teacher.
I think the revolt against chronic stress will look different for everyone, and its definitely an intuitive, artsy sort of process, not a science. But if you're looking for ideas, here's what I'm trying to put into consistent practice right now.
Get outside every day in sunshine; move your body. I've been venturing out midday, sometimes feeling extremely conspicuous that I'm the only 40something mama in my neighborhood actually enjoying the luxury of a walk in the middle of the day. Challenge yourself, though, to go on this walk and not talk on the phone, check your texts messages/email or play video games. What if you were silent and watched for butterflies?
Don't eat crappy food. It doesn't help stress.
Pray. Or if prayer is not your thing, meditate. Sit in silence. Be mindful. As Ruth Haley Barton says, it's good to let the swirling sediment of our thoughts settle to to the bottom of the glass for a while each day (Or something like that. She's more eloquent than I am). There are apps for this if you need a hand getting started (Centering Prayer, Hallow (my fave, and I'm not even Catholic even though the app is made by Catholics for Catholics), and Head Space)
Practice sabbath. Try to find a 24 hour period in the week where you aren't driven by paid or unpaid work. Twenty-four hours of very few have-tos and many more get-tos. For me, this is after dinner on Friday to after dinner Saturday. I'm trying to read fiction, garden, talk with family, cook good food. and just sit near a sunny window. Of course, there are offspring to feed. You probably can't convince your 8-year-old that it's a good idea for you to skip her bedtime song routine. But you catch my drift. Also, if taking a twenty-four hour break from drivenness in your work fills you with gallons of anxious energy, why don't you start with 6 waking hours and see if your life doesn't fall apart?
Laugh. Find something ridiculously funny to laugh at. This guy does it for me lately. Also, Dharma and Greg. Always them.
And last but not least--my latest superpower--PRETEND YOU ARE ON VACATION. You know how when you are far away from home and you've checked into the hotel or the cabin, and you know that even if your water heater back home starts leaking and floods your basement, there's nothing you'll be able to do about it because you're not there to witness the disaster? Well, pretend like that EVERY DAY.
Last night I walked through the Target aisles, my cart full of three different kinds of socks, the chocolate, and 2-pocket folders. And every time I felt my throat get all tight when I thought about what awaited me at home, I'd breathe deep and think: I'm on vacation. While I know that sounds a little bit spazzy, it's still true in a sense: it's a vacation of some sort--if only from Cronic Stress Mindset. A vacation whose aim is to be in the moment, present to the people around me, and enjoying the quirkiness of life while not mapping out and planning and strategizing and scripting every second of every day so that they become bullet-pointed actionable items. Don't do that. Pretend you're on vacation. And if you need help, watch this video.
Peace and love to you and yours. If you want to practice the art of chronic stress mindset revolt, comment and let me know. We'll be in this together!