Although I work in healthcare, I was furloughed this summer, resulting in more leisure time than I have had since I started working at age 15. Over the past few months, I reveled in extra hours with the grandkids, and my garden finally received the attention it needed. Every day I had time for outdoor walks, knitting, reading, baking and crocheting rag rugs. Having leisure time was heavenly.
When I did return to work and was catching up with my colleague, she stopped in the middle of our conversation, tipped her head to one side and proclaimed, “You look different … more relaxed.” Having leisure time apparently showed on my face.
There are countless others who have more leisure time due to the coronavirus pandemic. I read about one local man who filled his extra time by trying out 100 recipes in 100 days, baking things he had never baked before. Biscotti anyone? My eye doctor said he used his furlough to take a couple of master cooking classes online, and a good friend said she learned how to create colorful mandalas. And when I visit craft stores, I see young and old happily gathering items for their hobbies. Having leisure time is good for creative juices and for business!
In her book, The Art of the Wasted Day, local author Patricia Hampl vividly recalls her childhood days lying under a tree watching the clouds go by, and she unapologetically explores the lost value of leisure and daydreaming. Hampl encourages us all to “waste some time to understand what makes life worth living.”
I distinctly remember that when I was in the thick of raising three kids and working full time, I felt I was drowning in responsibilities. It was a constant race to chip away at my always growing to-do lists for work and home. At that same time, one of my closest friends invited me to join her book club. Although tempted, all I could think about was how busy I was, how tired I was and how I couldn’t possibly fit in one more thing. But in a moment of clarity, I challenged myself. “Really, Mary Rose? You honestly cannot carve out just three hours one night a month for yourself?” I was desperately craving fun, friendship and mental stimulation.
So, crazy as it seemed — in the thick of the busiest time of my life — I added one more thing. Every third Tuesday evening of the month, I expended the energy to get there, and savored the feeling of driving home with an emotionally full bucket. I know the kids benefited from my decision, as I’d come home with a little extra to give and would lose my resentment. Nobody wants to be around a resentful mom.
Three decades later our book club is still meeting, although virtually for now. We have formed lifelong friendships and we still love discussing the book of the month. I’m so glad I said “yes” to book club, and I encourage everyone to carve out a little leisure time of their own.
In February my wife and I were exhausted after an incredibly busy year and the day-to-day demands of managing our full-time jobs, two young kids, two dogs and a 100-plus-year-old house. We decided it was time to start carving out opportunities for ourselves — both individually and as a couple — to rest, care for ourselves and have fun.
We created a game plan that included leveraging our network (family, friends, babysitters) to help us with the kids, getting creative with our schedules to maximize the time the kids were at daycare, and enjoying our weekends with friends at our parks, pools and playgrounds. Then COVID-19 hit and everything changed. Virtually all of the strategies and supports we had relied on were no longer possible or safe, as the kids were home full time and we had no contact with anyone outside of our house (except for my parents). We were grateful to still have our jobs, but the stress of trying to show up well at work while also keeping our kids alive and enriched was just too much. Our exhaustion led us to show up in less than ideal ways for each other, at work and for the kids.
After about a month we decided the situation was neither sustainable nor fair, and that we needed to get even more creative and find new solutions given our new circumstances. After a lot of trial and error, we figured out several ways to carve out time. Some of these were specific to the circumstances, but I suspect others will carry through for years to come.
Evaluate your priorities: Before you go to bed tonight, what do you want to ensure happens? Do your priorities include items from your to-do list AND items for you, that will bring you joy or help you rest? What lower-priority items can be pushed back or moved around to ensure you get to what matters most to you?
Accountability partner: Find a friend or family member who can help look out for you. A friend and I have both been focused on getting exercise, so we text at least once a week to see how we’re doing, provide encouragement and problem-solve or commiserate around challenges.
Two birds: To the extent possible, find ways that you might be able to layer tasks. For example, ride your bike to a nearby park and go for a socially distanced walk with a friend (tons of physical activity AND social time). Need to clean out the garage? Instead of using precious nap time, set the kids up with something fun and messy (water, sand, dirt) while you keep working. Then when they nap, you nap (or rest, or do something fun).
Be intentional: When in your day can you carve out time for yourself? Recently we’ve been more intentional with our couple hours of post-kid-bedtime time. Some nights we take time to do things independently (hobbies, etc.) and other nights we create little at-home dates for ourselves (even if it’s just having a beer together on the front porch).
Make your lists and check them: In addition to my actual to-do list, I also have a list for fun and a list for rest/self-care. On each list are activities that take different amounts of time and pre-planning, from a one-minute focused breathing exercise to a full-day hike. It’s a constantly growing menu of options so I’m never at a loss for ideas.
Mary Rose Remington, a Twin Cities-based baby boomer, is documentingher grandparenting experiences with her daughter, Laura Groenjes Mitchell, a millennial mother of two, who lives with her wife in Minneapolis.