Sabbath

I’m taking Spring Break off with the kids. It is an incredible gift to be able to slow down and see what each day brings. I get up at six, lay in bed and read for half an hour, then get up and in the quiet of not having to get kids up and ready for school, take care of tasks I never get around to. The kids have been staying up late these vacation nights; they get up at nine-thirty or ten in the morning, amble into the living room, and begin to read or make fairy castles with pattern blocks. Eventually I make breakfast. None of us has gotten dressed until noon at the earliest.

Yesterday Justin spent an hour ironing wrinkled napkins, with Emily standing over the ironing board, ready with the spray bottle. Justin had contests with himself to see which napkin could be the most wrinkle-free. I remember ironing with my mother as a child. In the last ten years, how many times have I ironed? Twice.

Today Justin is cooking dinner. He used his new Mollie Katzen cookbook Honest Pretzels to plan the menu: homemade peppermint cookies, macaroni minestrone, popovers, and homemade lemon-lime soda pop. He painstakingly wrote out the shopping list, and yesterday we went to two grocery stores to buy his ingredients. Today, I’ll supervise him and he’ll cook. Then we’ll create a decorative menu, pick flowers for the table, and have a special feast.

We’re going camping this weekend. As I pulled out our camping gear to see what needed mending or replacing, the kids helped. We stretched our tent out on the grass to air. The kids said, “Let’s set it up and sleep in it tonight.” Easily, I said, “Okay.” There was no reason not to, no pressing obligations that precluded a spontaneous night outdoors. So we read our nightly story by flashlight and snuggled together in the tent to go to sleep. Emily was scared, so I held her closer, and pretty soon, the sound of heavy breathing surrounded me. I looked up at the night sky, smiled, and surrendered to sleep.

These are simple pleasures, but they have rhythm and spaciousness and freedom in them. It is a joy to not be propelled through life, tied to my never-ending list of things to do. Having these days that aren’t pre-packaged and pre-set reminds me of John Lennon’s famous line: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

I’ve had far too many vacations when I’ve been on a deadline and had to work. It’s always stressful, piecing together childcare for the kids, feeling guilty about not letting them have a “real” vacation. I hate those vacations, when time off isn’t a break from structure and routine and must-dos, but an endless series of arrangements. During these vacations, the kids have been fortunate to go to good daycare centers, wonderful camps, educational programs, and other meaningful, well-designed activities. We’re blessed with wonderful options in Santa Cruz. Yet I can’t help wondering how different their time off would be if they didn’t have to wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed, and be somewhere. What if they could choose their own activities? What if they could move freely in the world at their own pace and in their own way? How much richer might their inner world be?

I feel lucky this time, that I was able to take the week off without feeling torn. Many of my friends are not so fortunate. There is no leeway in their work to allow for such freedom. For them, every day is a juggling act.

This morning I was talking to my friend Yona. Our daughters go to preschool together. She and her husband both work long hours and she, like many others, has had to patch together childcare for this week. I’m one of the patches: I’m taking care of her daughter today.

Yona is a long-standing meditator. Before having her first and only baby in her forties, Yona spent years working, then took breaks to go on long silent retreats. She knows the value of stillness. But since she’s had her daughter, she can only practice mindfulness “on the run.”

I was telling Yona about my week, and she replied, “I know what you’re talking about. I know that kind of spaciousness deep in my bones, yet I can’t honor it. Adam and I are both so busy working all week that we need the weekends to catch up on all the things we haven’t gotten to do. There’s no room in our lives to take a day for a Sabbath.”

Yesterday, I spoke with another friend-about our choice to stay in a community where living costs so much, where supporting ourselves requires so much of our precious life energy.

Early in the morning and late at night, I’ve been reading a wonderful book, Sabbath, by Wayne Muller. Muller, who writes about Sabbath from many perspectives, stresses the importance of creating a Sabbath or a series of mini-Sabbaths in our lives. The Sabbath, Muller explains, is not for stern observances; it is for joy, sensuality, peace and delight. With poetry, stories and gentle encouragement, Muller reminds us why we need to rest, slow down, and give ourselves a break: so we can see the beauty in a leaf, read to our children without thinking about what we need to do next, set the table with flowers and a candle and a love note on each plate, loaf, lounge, walk just for the sake of walking, stop the endless doing and see what happens. Muller weaves his words beautifully, creating a inspiring book that makes me want to stop and rest right now. In fact I think I will. A hot bath with lavender oil perhaps? A few minutes of reading before falling into bed…and then sleep, blessed sleep. Just thinking about it makes me want to finish this article….and rest. Mmmmmm…I think I will.