When you have small children it can be easy to fall back on the tried and trusted options for “me time". Netflix and chill. Yoga when the kids are asleep.
But lately I’ve found there are some things worth stretching a bit farther for, when it comes to filling up my cup. Some are obvious and easy to do, others take a little bit of thought and planning.
Here are the unexpected ways I’ve found to fill my cup.
#1. Reading a good book
I hear a lot of parents say they don’t know the last time they read a book. I know that in the early years this can be true. Mainly because your eyes are so heavy you can’t keep them open long enough to get through a sentence, let alone a whole page. But once you’ve shaken off the shackles of severe sleep deprivation, there’s nothing like a good book.
Instead of sitting on the lounge and flicking through a million Netflix shows you don’t want to watch, or scrolling endlessly through Facebook, get a recommendation from a friend and dig into a good book. Books offer a myriad of emotions, whisk you away to another place and time, and fill your mind with ideas and wonderings that you wouldn’t otherwise have.
Recent page turners for me have been Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth and Danger Music by Eddie Ayers. Very different books that entertained in different ways. Some nights there is nothing more peaceful than lying in bed cocooned in lamp light, curled up reading. It calms me and makes me use my brain in a pleasant, gentle way that TV doesn’t.
#2. Challenging yourself with something new
Recently I did an ocean swim course. It took a bit of effort on my part. Asking my folks to come and look after the kids, facing my fear of waves and sharks. Swimming on mornings when it was grey and rainy and the waves were choppy as hell.
Who would have thought that while battling the seas I would discover new friends? There were two other women who wanted to keep swimming after the course ended. All at the same level of competence and fear. Now we meet up once a week and swim, then have breakfast and a chat.
I had forgotten how lovely and life affirming it is to connect with new, like-minded people; you never know what trying something new will bring you.
#3. Going to an exhibition, a play or a concert
Choose something that fills your soul and expands your horizons - even if it’s for one night or afternoon.
I have always loved history, and could spend hours wandering around a historical house imagining the people who lived there and the times they lived in.
The NSW Art Gallery is currently showing The Lady and the Unicorn. They are a series of famous, medieval tapestries that I first learnt about in a Tracey Chevalier novel of the same name. It’s only the third time they have left France in the last 500 years. I was in heaven. If only for five minutes because I had brought my kids.
Check out your local gallery to see if there’s something that stirs your soul. Maybe the local theatre company is putting on a play that tickles your fancy. Or a music venue nearby might be having a performance of the kind you’d drift away to.
You don’t have to go far to be inspired; as choreographer Twyla Tharp said once “Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”
#4. Find interesting people, and listen to them speak
Human beings can be inspiring creatures; some have climbed mountains, overcome great adversity, or show an amount of humanity and compassion that restores your faith in the world.
Perhaps you could go and see a much-loved author speak, local bookstores often offer intimate chats with authors. I did that recently with Tim Winton when he toured, speaking about toxic masculinity and it was mesmerising.
Or you could find somewhere like The School of Life, who offer a myriad of courses on everything from The Meaning of Life to How to identify your career potential.
#5. Learn a new skill
Skills don’t have to be something “useful”. You don’t need to learn how to do the family finances or how to cook better. Unless, of course, that’s something you long to do.
You might want to learn how to knit or play a musical instrument. My husband taught himself how to play the guitar and it is a constant source of joy for him. I learnt how to meditate. And while it’s not something I can do every day, I do it as much as I can.
It’s given me a small moment of reflection that I wouldn’t otherwise have.
Who knows what a new skill could give you?
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