The last couple of months have been a whirlwind. We had to leave our apartment in the middle of buying a home, we’re staying with family, the home sale is held up by a million things, Jayson is struggling with school… we are cramped, stressed out and reaching the end of our ropes. When we wound up running over an hour late Monday morning I found that I had had enough. I couldn’t take the rushing, the arguing, trying to eat breakfast and get dressed while right on top of each other, tripping over sneakers and backpacks and stepping in crumbs. I called for a sick day. Our bodies were fine but our emotions and minds were a toxic mix of short tempers and stress.
My husband still had to make it in to work, so we saw him off, then the kids got dressed and began to play. My only rule was No Video Games. I’ve had my fill of tiny eyes staring into screens all day. I tried to get some work done, but I just couldn’t write. I needed to clear my head, so I grabbed some diapers, tossed the kids in the car and started driving towards the zoo.
We got lost. I’m probably the only person I’ll ever know who can get lost in her own hometown. Eventually we made it, and climbing out of the car was a breath of fresh air. It was the first day above 30 degrees in almost four months, the sun was shining and the parking lot was empty. The sheer beauty of it followed us inside, where we found ourselves entirely alone, watching bison graze and do other bison-ly things.
Snow still covered the ground where a path had not been cleared, but it didn’t bother us at all as the temperature climbed to near 50 and we began to shed our hats and gloves. We made our way around the zoo, avoiding any indoor exhibits in exchange for a couple of hours out in the sun. The kids ran and jumped and toed the icy piled of remaining snow.
We were stunned by how active the animals were. We were treated to a show by the sea lions, and they called loudly to one another over and over again. The boys pretended they were talking about finding some fish to eat (boys think about food a lot). When we went to the aviary we were in for yet another treat. The birds were basking in the sun so close to us we could see every feathered detail on them. We spent a lot of time there, watching penguins peak out from behind rocks and listening to the various bird calls.
We later would get to see condors, eagles and vultures up close too, as they made their way to the very edges of their enclosures, stretching their massive wings. We saw rhinos and monkeys and spent a peaceful hour eating lunch and watching the peacocks, with vibrant new feathers, showing off to the wandering peahens.
Our last stop was a ride on the bug carousel before a leisurely walk back to the car. The boys played and I marveled at the sheer peace of it… no fighting or bickering – just brothers running and laughing. It was a day for healing our minds, just a small escape from the constant pressure that allowed us to remember the beauty of things.
We came back to reality with fresh heads, having spent the day connecting in a way that’s gotten harder and harder lately. While I’m never a fan of the kids missing school, I think we all learned something important – sometimes we need to put ourselves first. We were on our last leg and this outing brought peace and a sense of calm back into our lives. We needed this time, unhurried, without deadlines. And now we can return to our normal responsibilities with clear heads and a little less weight on our shoulders.
Thinking back on our family “sick day” I am reminded of this anecdote:
A lecturer, when explaining stress management to an audience, raised a glass of water and asked, “How heavy is this glass of water?” Answers called out ranged from 20g to 500g.
The lecturer replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it.”
“If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance. “In each case, it’s the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”
He continued, “And that’s the way it is with stress. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won’t be able to carry on.” “As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we’re refreshed, we can carry on with the demands of life.”
I don’t know the origin of the story, but the message resonates with us as we face mounting challenges in our lives. So often we say “Let’s just get through this”. We look toward the end of a difficult period, treating it like a marathon, racing towards the finish line. But what happens when we’re overcome by mental fatigue at the half way mark?
Stress is a disease that affects all of us at some point or another. Even our children, with so little to worry about, succumb to stress when it lives in our homes. As we spend our lives teaching our children the importance of responsibility, hard work and dedication to see things through we also need to teach them the importance of mental health and equip them with coping strategies to navigate today’s high stress world.
Like we teach them to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables or to avoid too much candy it is simple things, like making time for simple hobbies, friends and family, or remembering to allow ourselves leisure time that are important in teaching our children that we need to take care of our minds as well as our bodies.
Taking a family “sick day” not only reinforces the importance of stress management, but gives you valuable time to reconnect with our spouses and children, to simply enjoy each other’s presence. The worries of yesterday will still be there tomorrow, and even if you pick right back up where you left off your burden will seem lighter and more manageable on a fresh head.
Have you ever had to just escape for a day? Where did you go?