Self-care and the lessons of a child
I was talking about writer’s burnout yesterday and self-care is really the only antidote, though by the time we decide to practice self-care, we’re usually well into the burnout phase and trying to grab a little me time is a bit like applying a Band-Aid to a lobotomy.
Nevertheless, you gotta do it. Without self care, we continue to feel shitty, we get depressed, we feel tapped, and generally overwhelmed by having to perform any task, let alone those that require a creative flow state.
When you have limited hours in a day to get shit done, it’s hard, or even impossible, to just allow yourself the time to do things differently.
Yesterday, my wife came upstairs and told me, in the way wive’s sometimes do, that we were going for a walk instead of working through our lunches. And because it was such a beautiful day, the sun out in full force and all, we walked up to the top of the hill where the garry oaks grow and let the fresh air and warm sunshine clear out some cobwebs.
I started to think of the whole self-care thing as a habit, and like any habitual behavior, it could become part of my routine with a little focused practice.
My wife works at home too, though we rarely see each other during the day. We are both heads down, nose to the grindstone kind of people in the way we choose to work. Both of us are pretty terrible at scheduling time to take care of ourselves, which is all fine and good when you’re young and your body hasn’t yet started to protest sitting in a chair in the same stuck and mildly frosty position for hours on end, barely getting up to wee when you have to, as though bladders are just an inconvenience. It’s great to get stuff done, and people always admire the work ethic it takes to stay focused like that, but it’s a bit ridiculous, let’s be real.
It’s not a race. Taking 5, 10, or 25 minutes here and there to stretch, look at a different scenery, go for a walk, jump on the rowing machine, eat a proper meal, would actually help me be a better working machine. But it’s easy to forget that these things are not only important, but necessary, even more than the work is. Gasp.
Taking care of body and mind should be at the top of everyone’s list of important things to do. And I realize this is ridiculously privileged thing to say, and I’m certainly not suggesting that everyone has the opportunity to take fifteen and go for a walk up a hill, but for those of us who can, it’s our chance to stay healthy, to not burn out, to enjoy the freedom we have been given without it turning around and killing us.
But again, like any habit, it’s hard to implement it when you’re used to other methods, especially when you believe those methods are the part of your ethos that gets you ahead.
I was having a discussion with my kid the other day about practicing piano, and as I often do when we are talking about values and ethics, I took the angle of trying to impress upon him that we, in this family take the interests we have very seriously, and that means that when the teacher says to practice a piece once, we practice it three times, because once will get you there, eventually, but three times will get you there sooner, and sooner means you’ll start feeling like you know what you’re doing, your body will start remembering it, you’ll start to enjoy the way it sounds, and be proud of the work you’ve done. These are the rewards of focus and doing the work.
I always try and frame things to my kid in such a way that he knows it’s ultimately up to him to choose the kind of person he wants to be, but that this is the way his moms do things, and because he respects us, he takes it to heart. We’ve always supported and shared the joy of each other’s efforts. He says “good job” to us, too.
At first he went kicking and screaming into the notion that he had to do his piano homework three times rather than once, but after a week of it, he has started to feel and hear the difference in his playing, for just 10 minutes more worth of effort. It was a successful passing of a life lesson from a parent to a kid.
But as many teaching moments go, the lesson went both ways. Dun, dun, dah.
What I learned from him was that it is possible to work hard and then get up and walk away from it. He practices with focus, then he goes and plays. He goes and laughs. He goes and gets a snack, and to the bathroom when he needs to. He runs around, builds complex structures on the floor, practices his wrist shots in the backyard, goes and does some art, and then reads some French. The takeaway is: he is actually closer to mastering work/life balance, and his moms could learn a thing or two from his methods.
Variety. Adaptability. Going with the flow. Listening to your body. Appreciating your body. Kids do this naturally. And so this week, I’m going to try to, too.