I just returned from Christmas vacation in Toronto with my family and we had an absolutely amazing time. We haven’t been home to Canada in the winter in five years but after having such a lovely time in Oregon last Christmas Sean and I realized there’s something to be said for getting “away” for the holidays. Celebrating in our own home is nice, but the luxury of being able to leave – to go somewhere where we aren’t constantly reminded of things that need to be done or work that should be accomplished, a place where friends are close and family is closer, a space far removed from our “every day” – is a real treat. Our lives have a habit of becoming repetitive, sort of a “same s*^# different day” mentality that a change of scene really shakes up. Turns out it was just what we needed to refill our tanks.
Obviously, being the kind of chummy, togetherness family we are, we filled our days with plenty of family activities encouraged by the season. We walked downtown to see the beautiful Christmas windows decorated for the young and young at heart, we did multiple days of tobogganing (sledding for my south of the border friends) down the snowy white hills in our mismatched ski clothes, we made snow men, angels and igloos on the front lawn and cozied up inside for movies with hot chocolate. Christmas day was thrilling (how can it not be with a little person?) and the spirit of the season filled my childhood home. Two full weeks allowed us to have a real visit with my parents and Loch and his Granny were like peas in a pod. Every morning he’d open the door to my room not to say good morning but to take a shortcut to his beloved Gran. It was both sweet and awesome to be able to roll over and go back to sleep knowing he was happy and I wasn’t in charge.
Family time aside, what struck me the most about this holiday was how energized I felt being able to go out and socialize as an adult. Not as a family, but as a couple, or even as an individual. We did have a wonderful Christmas Eve with six of my oldest friends, their spouses/partners and children, but even amidst all the chaos it felt as if the priority remained on the adults. The children ran around and did their thing but I think the grown ups were free to enjoy their evening. I’m willing to accept it might have just felt like that to me because my child is almost 5, comfortable in the space and can feed himself, but for the most part I felt the children, instead of being the focal point they usually are, were able to fall in and let their parents come first. Before everyone went home we even had the energy to do some singing as a group. For me it was the most special Christmas Eve I can remember having. A perfect storm of family, friends and joy for which I was incredibly grateful.
We don’t go out a lot in LA. We sometimes see movies or go to dinner, but between Sean’s insane work schedule, our friend’s busy lives and our baby sitter’s availabilities, we don’t do it that much. I don’t know whether it was the fact that it was the holidays, we had a built-in baby sitter or people were just up for going out, but Sean and I were really social over the break and it was fantastic. We had night of tequila and Mexican food with my Maid of Honor and her new love who, after a decade of living in NYC is finally back in Toronto where I can visit her. We spent an terrific weekend with one of my oldest friends and her family up in ski country where we were outdoorsy all day and spent rosy cheeked nights chatting away while our children played. New Year’s Eve was a riotous evening of old friends, great nibbles and big laughs where even some dancing took place. And finally, and what really solidified this whole thought for me, was a dinner we had with a dear friend of mine from High School and his adorable wife. We connected at a great Italian restaurant, drank a couple bottles of wine and enjoyed four hours of animated, candid conversation. After we’d dropped them off, I turned to Sean and said, “That was an absolutely perfect evening” and it was. Good food, great people, and real grown up interaction. I don’t think any of us noticed the time fly by. There’s a real under appreciation, especially with parents, for taking time to yourselves. I’m not talking about things like spa days, because honestly how many people are actually doing that, but an afternoon or evening here and there that truly belongs to you. Where our conversations shift to subjects other than work or kids. A time where the enjoyment of our peers and ourselves becomes the focus.
There was a night a couple of months ago when a group of moms from Loch’s preschool were getting together for dinner. I was exhausted and seriously considering bailing, but I pulled it together, slapped some blush on my cheeks and willed myself out the door. What struck me most, almost instantly after I arrived, was how un-tired I felt. I thought I’d stay for one drink and here I was all perky and laughing. What I realized in that moment was only part of me was tired – the mom part – the other part of me – let’s call it the Leigh part – was really excited to be out. That part of me was thrilled to be among her peers and perfectly happy to order a second martini. I try to remind myself of that feeling every time I think I don’t have the energy to rally at the end of the day. Only part of me is whipped. The other part is just bored.
I have a close group of friends here in LA. It’s basically three couples with kids and two singles. We used to do a annual dinner out for everyone’s birthday but over time it became increasingly more complicated to organize and we ended up celebrating March birthdays in June or putting two birthday’s together, so we finally let it go. The thing is, now we barely see each other. Sure our dinners only happened five or six times a year but at least they happened. I looked forward to them and now, with all our busy schedules, there’s never any time to see our friends. Without the excuse of the birthday celebration, there never seems to be a reason to make plans.
If you’re a parent you understand when I say “embrace the adult part of yourself”. It’s the part that still bothers to do your makeup or craves a couple of hours when no one’s asking you for something. A time when you can stop trying to shape a person and just be a person. But I also think it’s important for people without children to embrace that part too. We aren’t just parents or our jobs. We can’t simply fall into routines and forget to get out. Remember when you used to wait for the weekend? When you’d be excited planning your social life? We shouldn’t stop just because we got busy…or tired.
I’m excited for a fundraiser for Loch’s school in May because it’s a dinner dance where I can plan a costume. I’m eagerly awaiting the summer when my BFF and I will go dancing. I’m psyched for a friend’s birthday party that has yet to be planned because he mentioned he wanted it to be a masked ball. It could be next year but I’m already looking forward to it and that’s slightly depressing. These nights out shouldn’t be so few and far between. If I learned anything this Christmas, other than Mt. Sinai is a far better hospital than Sunnybook, it’s that we need to make more of an effort. That seeing our friends is a spirit lifter. That we require more nights of companionship and conversation and we should remind ourselves more than twice a year that we’re more than a collection of schedules, habits and errands. Connecting with others reminds us of ourselves, not just our given roles.
If I know anything, it’s that life is short and you never know what cards you’re going to be dealt. I realize life’s not a vacation. That we don’t always have the time, finances or inclination to go out. But this holiday reminded me that I should more of an effort. That the simple action of interacting with my peers made me happier. Time with our kids is wonderful. Commitment to our spouse is essential. Devotion to our job is both lucrative and inevitable. But our friendships, our adult based interactions, are vital to our mental health. We need those connections. We need those evenings or lunches or whatever to remind us of who were are at the root of it all. We deserve to be excited. To have fun. To get dressed up, because time for yourself, for the person inside who wants to be more than what they do or who they take care of, is indispensable. So though it might feel like it’s the last thing on your to do list, I believe our lives are better and more full when we live them, not just exist within them.
Happy New Year! Go call a friend.