(credit for my favorite picture ever, found via pinterest)
I remember the moment I realized self-care was needed in hectic seasons. It was my first year teaching kindergarten, and I was throwing a pumpkin carving party for my students and their parents. It involved a skit, roasted pumpkin seeds, cutting and cleaning pumpkins, pouring cider, and ushering in/out an astonishing number of family members who showed up. The day of, I was too busy getting party supplies to prep for the school day. Instead of my bottled water and packed lunch, I picked up a huge iced coffee full of pumpkin syrup and ordered food from a nearby Chinese restaurant as a treat. Running to get my order meant that I missed my time to eat AS WELL AS my time to organize myself before the parents came. I ended up being more rushed than I wanted, gulping coffee on an empty stomach. The party was fine, but I recall a moment after everyone had gone home, standing over a trash can and eating a terriakyi skewer that I didn't even want anymore, thinking, "This is the one day I needed healthy snacks and extra water. I feel gross."
Usually, when situations are really stressful or busy, I justify a trillion cups of coffee or an avalanche of fun sized candies by telling myself that I deserve it, when honestly the only way to make myself feel better is to reach for water and almonds more often than not. I've gotten more deliberate about my choices during holidays and other busy times, but I can always use reminders; here are some steps we're taking right now to stay sane.
1. Routine rules
When friends visit, when special movies are on TV, when I'm exhausted and want to walk around Target for an extended period of time...these are all examples of when our school night routine gets thrown out the window. During our Thanksgiving break, we had my sister with us, which meant an enormous help with dishes, babysitting, extra tickle fights and silliness. It also meant late bedtimes and tons of sweets and having company over meant pie for breakfast....over and over again. Monday was our first day back into the rhythms of our normal home life, and it was boring. Boring felt good. We do a little play time, a little cleaning, a few shows, then dinner, baths, books, and bed. It's a lot of work to keep that flow going, and typically either Ben or I is doing it by ourselves, but it pays off when everyone is in bed by 7:30, dinner in their bellies, teeth brushed and their heads full of bedtime stories. If I follow all the steps, I also end up with lunches packed, clothes picked out, and a wiped down kitchen. That is money in the bank. I've heard that a good morning/evening routine has 3-5 repeatable steps; sketch one out for yourself or your family and rely on that autopilot when things inevitably get insane.
2. Water, water, water, water
I've been drinking more water. I'm aware that this isn't breaking news, but, once again, it makes me feel good. I've been reading about creating simple morning and evening routines for ourselves as adults, and one of the suggested things to add to your routine was "drink a glass of water." Simple is beautiful; I jumped on that one right away. I have a glass before breakfast and a glass before bed, as well as at least one 24 ounce bottle during the day. I started making a cup of herbal tea when my students go to their specials at 1pm. I'm trying to resist the urge to pick up a coffee EVERY time I'm out doing errands- I rarely finish them if I'm out with the boys, and I'd like them to feel special again. I get the boys into it by being obsessive about having water cups and teaching them how to "cheers" each other. Even in the midst of the grossest tantrum, I can get a sip out of Milo if we clink water bottles dramatically first. Basically- we're made of water, and winter is a dry season, so drink up, my friends.
3. Do You
This is a bit of a revelation for me, but I'm not going to feel very good unless I'm making the effort to do things I enjoy. For instance, I really love to read- blogs, novels, magazines, on the Kindle, in the bathtub, on the elliptical machine, in bed- but I can get away from it and go months without picking up a book. If I fall asleep on the couch every night, I miss my chance to get in a chapter before I sleep. If I get a spare 15 minutes and waste it rereading Facebook statuses, I've lost the opportunity to check in with some of my favorite pretend friends who live in my blog reader. I've had to work to get reading back into my every day life. Yes, I'm busy, working full time and taking care of very young children and going to grad school, but the truth is, I have time for lots of movies on the couch and Vine binges, so reading can fit back into my life, too. Right now I'm reading Clash of Kings (from the Game of Thrones series) when I go to the gym, Insurgent (from the Divergent series) before bed or in the bathtub, and I'm waking up at 5 am to read blogs and write for myself. This takes work, and a commitment to occasionally go to the gym, but, keeping with my theme, IT IS WORTH IT. Pick one thing that is defining of you, and let it feed you when things are really busy. Whether it's running, taking cool photographs, cooking special meals, or holding themed movie marathons, there's no need to reinvent the wheel if something already exists that makes you feel even more like yourself.
The ironic thing about self-care is that none of it is really a mystery. We know that water and healthy food and a good bedtime are important, but
sometimes most times it's easier to stay on the couch for one more rerun of the Simpsons than to do the right thing. These tips are also chronically boring; picking water over a holiday sugar-bomb coffee is never very thrilling, and sometimes almost feels un-American (I mean, it IS Christmas, right?). Still, this is the prime time of year to go completely overboard while everyone around you cheers you for it, so being deliberate about at least one of these tips might save you from having to start COMPLETELY over in January. I'm far from perfect- I still over sleep or get too lazy to wash the kids bottles before they dry all crusty or fall down a rabbit hole into high-school friends' Instagram feeds. But I'm trying. Here's to a slightly calmer, slightly more hydrated December. Cheers!