As a gift for joining The Forty-Something Club, my generous-to-a-fault husband said he was going to send me and my two sister-friends to Toronto for an all-expenses-paid girls’ weekend. He wanted us to do it up right – spa time, shopping, dinner, dancing. It was the kind of weekend that the me before kids was all about.
As my girls and I tried to find a weekend that would work – extremely difficult when there are 8 kids and many hundreds of kilometers between us – I was coming to realize that there was something I needed more than ‘let loose’ time in the city: I needed time alone.
As a mama of two very little people, I am very popular. My sweet babes want to be with me all the time. Not just with me, but on me, or at least touching me. When they are awake, making sure their needs are met is my singular focus. There is always noise, usually of the joyful variety but sometimes of the whiny/fell-off-the-couch/didn’t-nap-long-enough kind. There is always motion. There is always a schedule. By the time bedtime rolls around, my body feels old and my head feels compressed.
After 37 years of only myself to look after, the constant neediness and standby-mode nature of motherhood has taken some getting used to.
So when it became apparent that there wasn’t a weekend in which my friends and I were all free to get away until 2021, I approached my husband with another idea:
Could I go somewhere overnight by myself?
That somewhere, incidentally, happened to be one of the most beautiful places in Ontario: Ste-Anne’s Spa.
I needed space and time to myself the way we all need oxygen and water. I needed to tune in to my own thoughts for awhile, without the distractions of everyday life interfering. I needed a beautiful string of uninterrupted hours, during which the only needs I had to think about were my own.
The thirty hours I spent at Ste-Anne’s Spa were, undoubtedly, the most appreciated gift I have ever received. In my entire life.
Thank you, Handsome.
Before arriving at the spa, I gave myself a stern talking to. I had to understand it in my bones that my Inner Productivity Junkie was not allowed to hijack my time away. This was not time earmarked for tackling things on my to do list, like organizing pictures for a photo book or working on my writing project or planning my son’s birthday party. Not even mentally.
All I had to do with this time away from home was take up space.
Anything beyond that had to be with selfish intentions only: to rest, relax, and rejuvenate.
Well, I am pleased to report that my Inner Productivity Junkie complied and, as it turns out, I am actually quite gifted at just taking up space.
Without trying, I filled those 30 hours with a plethora of activities that restored this mama in countless ways. One thing flowed seamlessly into the next. There was no rushing, no stressing.
Think of the things you would most want to do if you had the gift of solitude at a spa in a beautiful country setting…
Read a novel with a silly plot? Did that. In a hammock, y’all.
Take a leisurely bike ride? Yep. I had forgotten how much I enjoy riding a bike.
Try out the pool with the treadmill in it? Heck yeah!
Go for a long walk? Barefoot! (I did that for you, Mom. You’re always telling me to feel the grass on my toes.) I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but at one point I actually started to skip. Is there anything more childlike than skipping barefoot through fields? All I needed to do was start singing “The hills are alive with the sound of music…”, or to don a red cape and picnic basket. You know…like Little Red Riding Hood…? Moving on.
Much to my delight, Ste-Anne’s also had a Quiet Room where talking is verboten. I fear I broke the quietness of this lovely room though, because there was a BIG JAR OF COOKIES…
I ate every delicious, healthy meal slowly, savoring flavours that differed immensely from the mac ‘n’ cheese/pb&j/pizza to which my tastebuds have grown accustomed since having kids. I worried that dining alone would make me feel exposed…self-conscious…in the midst of couples and groups. Nope. Not even a little. I enjoyed people-watching. I took in the beautiful scenery. I tasted my food and paid attention when my brain told me my stomach was full. (I still ignored the message…the food was just too good to leave any on my plate!)
I drank multiple carafes of really good coffee while reading a second book.
I sweated like no one’s business in the eucalyptus steam room, then plunked myself in the cold plunge pool before my brain could talk me out of the idea.
I drank a bottle of wine that didn’t belong to me and enjoyed every sweet sip. (A story best left untold. Suffice it to say, I didn’t set out to steal another guest’s wine. Sometimes these things just happen…?)
You don’t go to a spa without getting spa treatments, and the ones I enjoyed were every bit as restorative as I had hoped they would be.
I slept for 10 STRAIGHT HOURS. (Cue Hallelujah chorus!)
By the time I had finished lunch on my second day at Ste-Anne’s, I was ready to go home, back to my sweet little ones. Back to my lovely chaos.
This time by myself – this beautiful solitude – put parts of me back in place that life had jostled loose.
I know that it’s not realistic for everyone to take this kind of time away from their family and responsibilities, especially at an expensive spa. I do think, however, that finding space for solitude in our busy lives is essential in order for us to live fully and happily, to be the best parents we can be, to put our best self forward at work and everywhere else we are needed.
And let me be clear – doing things alone and being in solitude are two entirely different things. Working out, grocery shopping, replying to text messages, googling stuff – all activities you might do alone. They don’t equate solitude though. Solitude means giving your mind a chance to be still. Tuning in to what your body might be trying to tell you. Allowing yourself to decompress from all the stimulation and pressure of life.
We are all so saturated with stimulation. Noise. Social media. To do lists that only seem to grow longer, no matter how hard we work to clear them.
Do we even know how to sit in silence anymore? To not fill every spare moment?
This is an everyone problem, not just a mama problem, though I think it’s extra-important for mamas to find relief from the barrage of stimulation that comes with our title.
I am learning that the only way I will get the quiet I need is if I make it a priority. That means putting my phone down, ignoring my Inner Productivity Junkie’s demand that I use every spare second to get something else done, and finding a place to just be. And when I find it, all I have to do there is breathe, pray, meditate.
It’s a funny thing: When you give yourself permission to just take up space, you actually end up creating more of it, both in your head and in your life.
I’ve been back from Ste-Anne’s for almost a week now, and I have managed to hold on to some of the inner calm that came from the time away. Even when my son bit my infant daughter’s leg, picked my tomatoes and stomped on them, and requested a meal of which he did not eat one bite. Even when my daughter woke repeatedly throughout the night because her soother had fallen out. (Curse and a blessing, that piece of plastic…) I held onto the calm more easily because my time away created more space in me, and with more space comes more patience, more tolerance, more compassion – both for others and for myself.
It will likely be awhile before I can return to Ste-Anne’s (no, not because of the stolen wine situation), but I don’t have to be in that beautiful setting to continue incorporating solitude into my days. Like brushing my teeth, sitting in quiet will become a regular part of each day from now on.
In the midst of this lovely chaos, this mama is going to claim some solitude.
Who’s with me?