Thursday, May 9, 2013

Give it a Rest

Find this lovely thought here.
I had a cold a couple of weekends ago, so maybe I was whining a bit as I talked to my mom, who, after inquiring about my symptoms and listening for a minute said, "I've noticed this past year that you're talking about these little health things more, like you need attention." If my throat hadn't hurt-- and it really did, I had swollen glands & everything-- I would have yelled because she was being so unjust. Instead, I quietly, but pretty emphatically, whimpered, "You know, I don't need attention, I just really need a break. I need to rest." She agreed and she talked a little while longer, then I hung up and did something utterly out of character:  I took a nap. 

What's the big deal about a nap?  Well, it was the middle of the day and the house was at sixes and sevens, a mess in every room just waiting for me to swoop in and rearrange it, put it right, make it neat. But Mike was home and he was going to take the girls out to ride their scooters.  So instead  of swooping and putting and making, I went to lie down, and because I was sick, I fell asleep.  For hours.  Did I say it was the middle of the day?

When I woke up, there was still an incredible mess. The girls' dresser had apparently exploded because every drawer was open, spewing clothing.  The living room was a minefield of Barbies and art supplies, and for some reason, every stuffed animal the girls own was lined up on the yoga mat which was laid out in the middle of the dining room like a runway. I still don't know why.  The kitchen counters were fully loaded with the debris of breakfast, lunch and snacks, nestled among every single glass we own, each containing an inch or less of an abandoned beverage.  Oblivious to the destruction, Mike and the girls were watching a movie, laughing at the antics of Jim Carrey, circa late 90's.  "Feeling better?" Mike asked hopefully. Yeah, I was... but after simply walking through the apartment, I was tired again and my throat still hurt and I was pretty stuffy, so I figured I could still use some rest.   I looked around, took note of the fact that the world was messy, but had not actually come to an end while I napped, and sat down with them to watch the rest of the movie.  And, get this, the world still didn't end!

That's right:  it turns out that life doesn't actually stop when I rest.  In fact, things keep happening, and that's okay.  (Except for the part where I still have to clean up.  But a nap is a nap, not the wave of a magic fairy wand.  There will always be stuff to clean up-- I have kids.)  So what is the problem with taking a break? 

My mom's comment (and my cranky reaction to it) reminded me that unless I'm sick, I don't feel like I deserve to rest. I mean really-- what kind of a wuss needs to rest?  What-- do I have the vapors or something, like some simpering Southern belle or consumptive romantic heroine?  Rest is for people who can't manage to get themselves through the day with a few cups of coffee and some sugary snacks grabbed on the go-- eh, I mean, with a balanced diet and plenty of hydration.  I am a strong woman with no need to rest.  Feel free to award my super special gold stars at any time. 

Cute baby found here.
Not only do I feel like resting is wimpy,  I have no patience for rest and I'm not the only one with rest-resistant tendencies. I think moms, especially, fall victim to the idea that rest is unproductive because it takes time away from things that have to be done. As soon as your children are born, you step onto a treadmill, and it is always set on an incline, because there is always something you could be doing. I thought it was just me, but an informal poll of women I know seems to bear this out. "I just have more to do when I get up," is the common refrain. I know that I usually ruin my own attempts to relax by spending rest time thinking about what I need to do when I stop resting. Like a kindergartner on a nap mat, I fidget until rest time is over and then I get back to the day, crankier than ever, because I feel like I was tricked into letting myself get behind.

Slate ran an article titled "It's OK to Nap" about hyper productive people (notice though, only men are mentioned) who relied on naps to increase productivity. While reading, it dawned on me that a big part of the problem is that many of us think that we can only rest in the service of doing more work. This article about resting, introduced by a quote from Ben Franklin, arguably one of the most productive and creative people in history, seems like a bridge from the instrumental idea of resting to a purer idea of rest for the sake of rest, but I still think we're in trouble when an article about the zen of concentrated rest is presented as a way of getting more done.

What I need is a way to give myself permission to really relax.  I have to get past the foot stomping, illness-related whining that is now the only way I allow myself to rest.  The real thing would be to rest when I feel fine and can actually enjoy the moment.  And it doesn't always have to be about sleep.  I would like to learn to enjoy the dreamy but observant rest where I pause to notice beauty around me and get recharged by letting my mind wander.  Or maybe just watch a whole movie without feeling like I should be doing something else. 

For now though, I can tell myself that rest helps me get more done.  So... I'll be taking a "creatively productive power break."  If you hear me snoring, you'll know I'm on the job. 


  1. Well said. Great writing & very thought provoking. I always thought I was the only one who felt this way about naps. I rarely nap, but when I do I feel like I lost a bet or something. Like it's a defeat and a pock mark on my super hero existence.

    1. Beth, your super special gold stars are on the way!

  2. Wow Erin how do u do it? Another awsome blog my friend!!!

    1. Thank you again Janet-- your encouragement means a lot to me!