Stepping out - FamilyEducation

Stepping out

October 28,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

One Wednesday out of every month is a Whirlwind Wednesday. On this particular Wednesday, I always have two meetings: one in the early afternoon and one two hours later. Because of how these two meetings are sandwiched into the day, I have to leave work early, pick up L. early from school, then drive across town to pick up T. early from school. Then I take the kids to Scott's work, where they will bounce around his office while he teaches his last class of the day, and I turn around and head back to work, and back to that last meeting. When I do finally get there I'm usually a few minutes late and I usually feel I'm due some type of standing ovation, given all the work I have done in the two hours between the meetings to even get there. Whirlwind Wednesdays stress me out. Even once I get home, I'm tired, and already thinking ahead to all the things left to do that day. Ironically, on Tuesday night, I went to our AS Parent Support Group meeting and listened to a talk on stress management. The speaker's main point was that stress relief is something you actually have to work at, because it's much easier to succumb to stress then it is to learn to let it go, even if just for a few minutes. She encouraged us to find ten minutes a day to practice relaxation--whether by taking a walk, or a shower, or just stepping outside and staring at the trees, letting go of that parade of thoughts and worries that marches across our brains. You can't get rid of every stressor in your life, she advised, but you can step outside the stress for a bit. I listened to her presentation, and while I appreciated the advice, I wasn't sure how easy it would be to step outside the stress, as if it were just a chalk circle on the ground, and not the insidious, weighty thing it really is. So, on Wednesday at dinner, even though the stress management lady had advised against making lists of the things that are stressing you out and that you can't possibly tackle at they very moment (instead list two or three smaller, doable things and get them done), I did just that. I made a list. Out loud. And it was delivered in a tense, ranty-sort of way. Before Friday, or Saturday morning at the latest, or Halloween day at the very, very latest, we needed to: Clean the house. Not just tidy, but rubber-glove clean. The kitchen floor needs to be mopped, the toilets cleaned, the stovetop scrubbed. My mother-in-law is coming Friday evening. Need I say more? Do laundry. Still piles of it. Months ago I instituted a new hamper system for the kids' bathroom but this just means now there seems to be a dozen more places for the dirty clothes to congregate. Clean the rabbit's cage. And the big fish tank. Grocery shop before a family gathering at our house on Saturday. Drive twenty minutes to the pet store to buy the dog her special, expensive, hypo-allergenic canned dog food. Drive to the vet to refill the dog's special, expensive, allergy medication. Finish L.'s costume. Buy more white spray paint to finish Liam's costume. Finish T.'s costume. Buy Halloween candy. Decide on costume for myself. Carve pumpkins. Clean up leaves and acorns from front path. And the baking! I have so many baking projects I want to tackle for Halloween and no time to do them! Needless to say, by the time I was done with my list of things to be done I felt my heart rate rising, just like the stress management lady said it would if we let ourselves get overwhelmed. I tried to think about what I could do that night to help whittle down the To Do list but it was all too much for a Wednesday night. I left to take the dog on her walk feeling all tightly wound up inside. I spent the first ten minutes of the walk turning over in my mind all the things I had to do, but then a strange thing happened: I let it all go; or rather, it let me go. I looked up and saw a bat darting across the sky, zig-zagging in a jagged black line. It was windy, and the trees rustled and swayed and somewhere deep in the neighborhood one of the giant owls was calling, a deep, woody, melancholy sound. It felt a little spooky, and Halloween-like, and beautiful and alive, all at once. When I got back all the things left to be done were still out there (although my kind husband had emptied all the trash in the bathrooms and started a load of laundry), but they felt shoved to the side, like they were waiting patiently in the corner instead of crowding me out. I realized that I had stepped outside the stress--literally and figuratively, and that while the walk hadn't helped the list any, it had helped me escape the spiral we busy parents are so often caught up in, as we pile on too much, spread ourselves too thin, demand too much of ourselves, and forget to focus on what we need, that we need to just be sometimes, even if only for the time it takes to walk the dog.