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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Running on empty

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22). The stars whisper to you -- pause to listen. They say things like "Be careful not to fall in love with someone's potential." You are observant and willing to see things how they are now instead of how they ought to be.

I’m not sure what to make of today’s horoscope, but I like the way it sounds. I like the idea of stars whispering to me. But maybe I need to be more attentive because I don’t hear anything right now and I know why. I’m treading on overload and can’t possibly handle much more without a significant rest.

I feel like the student whose Zen teacher illustrates his life by continuously pouring tea into a cup even as it flows over. When the student yells, “Stop, the cup is full,” the teacher replies: “And so it is with you.”

And so it is with me. Wise women (and men) say that when your life and mind become overwhelmed, you need to empty in order to take in new information. I don’t need to empty, but I could certainly use to refresh. I crave stillness, quiet and rest.

For a year, my sister has been inviting me to her brother-in-law’s cabin in southeast Ohio. It sounds and looks (at least in pictures) like a wonderful escape — big stone fireplace, modern bath and kitchen, lots of woods for long walks, no landline or TV reception. In fact, it sounds like just the place I need to unplug from my very plugged-in world.

With sudden urgency, I realized how much I need a break. It didn’t hit me until last night when my husband and I had a spirited discussion over how long we were going to stay at the cabin with my entire family on President’s Weekend. His fourth-grade basketball team has a game on Sunday afternoon and he thinks we should get up and leave Sunday morning in order to attend. My every weekend is filled with basketball games and carting kids here and there and running to the grocery store and getting to Mass and tackling painting projects and washing floors…. The last thing I do on the weekend is rest.

But I was near hysterical in my response to my husband, demanding to know why a CYO basketball game is more important than spending a relaxing long weekend with my family. He muttered something under his breath about me being a lunatic and not recalling that we had already discussed coming home early.

I wanted to scream, “I CHANGED MY MIND! I WANT TO STAY LONGER! I NEED TO STAY LONGER!” Instead, I walked into the living room (my room) and picked up my self-help review book: “Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much.” It would be funny, except that I’m too raw emotionally to see the humor.

I fought back tears of rage, exhaustion and frustration as I realized that a break, a change of scenery, a few days away from home and office (which are one in the same and can be hazardous to my mental health) are exactly what I need.

Though I contemplated saying that out loud, I hesitated. How can I say I need a break when I traveled alone so much last year? But the fact is, those were not restful trips. I was actively working. But there was that guilt, like my nearest and dearest friend. “How can you possibly say you need time alone when you were away so much in 2004?”

Next weekend will not be restful in the way that being alone would be. My entire extended family—10 adults, 7 kids and 3 dogs—will be there. But it represents a change in scenery. I can take Riley for a walk in the woods, run and laugh with Danny and the boys, sip tea with my sister. I won’t have to think about e-mail, deadlines, cell phone calls, the condition of kitchen floor or the unfinished painting project at least for a few days. And that’s all I need right now. Just a little break to refresh … at least until I can get my few days at the beach.

“The world is full of women blindsided by the unceasing demands of motherhood, still flabbergasted by how a job can be terrific and torturous.” — Anna Quindlen

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