Snow Days and Hotel Stays
February 2nd, 2011

Once upon a time I was a traveling salesman (woman).  A sales rep for a medical software company, I peddled my wares across the upper Midwest for two years.  I flew out on Monday mornings, and back on Thursdays, usually with a quick stopover at home on Tuesday nights for MBA classes.  There is a lot about those two years that I don’t miss.  The life of a frequent flyer is filled with headaches.  Time away from home and husband were draining.  Add part time graduate school to a full time job with regular travel and in retrospect I often wonder how I did it.  (I didn’t have kids then, is the answer.)

There was one thing I did love about all that time away, though: forced relaxation.  When you are in a hotel in Bismarck, North Dakota your to-do list is rendered irrelevant.  It doesn’t matter if your floors need sweeping, if you need to go to the grocery store, or if a thousand other things are hanging over your head.  When you are alone in a hotel in Bismarck (or Omaha or Dubuque or Oshkosh) there is not much option but to sit back and relax.

Yesterday was a similar day for us here in the Midwest.  We got ice overnight on Monday and it sleeted throughout the day on Tuesday.  My office was closed.  GAP’s office was closed.  Nanny stayed home.  And while there was regular checking of e-mail and the odd follow-up phone call, the day was, for the most part, quiet.

I do my best not to lead a life that is forever harried by an unending list of commitments and obligations.  But no amount of effort can fully compensate for the fact that the life of a working mother is a busy one.  If I want to pursue my career, be involved in my son’s life, devote time to my husband, and still have time for friends and hobbies the sacrifice that I make is my quiet time.  I don’t regret the way I’ve ranked these priorities, but I still appreciate the moments when unforeseen logistics step in and upend my little equilibrium, giving me fallow periods that I don’t usually get to enjoy.  There is value to quiet time, and it’s easy to lose sight of that when you’ve forgotten what it is that you’re missing.

When Anne and I were kids quiet time was a regular part of our day.  During the summers when we were too old to nap, but too young to go a full day without my mother needing a break we had “quiet time” every afternoon.  Mom went back to her room to read or write or nap.  And Anne and I were also assigned to our respective rooms.  There was no agenda.  We could read.  We could sleep.  We could play with toys.  The only rules were that we couldn’t play together, we couldn’t leave our rooms, and we couldn’t bother Mom for an hour.

As I remember it I wasn’t a huge fan of quiet time.  I was an active and energetic kid and I imagine I found it boring.  But as an adult I see it in a different light.  One obvious benefit was that it gave my mother respite from my sister’s and my antics.  But more importantly it was the beginning of learning how to be alone.  It was when I first learned the value of pace and patience.  It was when I learned to stimulate my own mind without the influence of other people.  In retrospect I realize that it was an incredible gift.

I mentioned the other day that I’m reading The Not So Big Life by Sarah Susanka.  I’m not through it yet, so I can’t say where it will take me.  But I sense that it’s leading me down a path that will empower me to identify these aspects of my life that I value, but yet have somehow sacrificed (like quiet time).  And I hope that it will also help me better understand how to recalibrate my life to make room for these things, and perhaps trim away aspects of my life that have been improperly prioritized.

Perhaps one day I will look at my life and find it perfectly balanced.  In the meantime, though, I will relish in the snow days and hotel stays that force me to downshift a couple of gears.

15 Responses to “Snow Days and Hotel Stays”

  1. Lindsey Says:

    I used to travel a lot for work and I totally relate to what you’re saying about hotel stays … there’s nothing to do BUT read, relax, sleep. Which is lovely. And snow days too. Though this winter we’ve had them once or twice weekly which is (a) making me insane with the shoveling and (b) having the effect of compressing the rest of life and making the other days really wildly packed.

    But I am also a fan of quiet time, had it as a child and enforce it now on my children who haven’t napped for years. I think it’s an important lull – for me, certainly – and I also think it teaches them a great skill which is becoming extinct, the ability to play alone (without electronics). Isn’t this where you develop imagination? Wonder? Awe? Boredom, even?

    Boredom has so many gifts for us that we’ve lost sight of …

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. xoxo

  2. Gale Says:

    Lindsey – I completely agree about boredom. The maxim goes that necessity is the mother of invention, but for children I prefer a slightly different version of it which is that boredom is the mother of creativity. Today kids are so scheduled and externally stimulated that many of them never have the opportunity to experience the boredom that might prompt them to dream up something wonderful. The opportunity to be alone with our own minds is becoming more of a luxury than it should. I hope that by my careful intervention my own kids won’t find it so precious and fleeting.

  3. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    My mother was a staunch supporter of “quiet time.” Funny, I’d forgotten that. If I think about it, I think that time should have been called “The Sanity Hour.” She needed that break from us.

    I’m writing down the book you mentioned–it sounds like something I’d like. Even need.

    I’m with you and Lindsey–boredom is the mother of invention. I need to remember that today, as it’s day #2 of no school for the kids.

  4. Gale Says:

    Kitch – I’m really enjoying The Not So Big Life. I wrote a bit more about it in a post last week, which you can find here. It’s a bit more self-help-ish than what I usually read. But I find her analogy to architecture resonant (she first wrote a book called The Not So Big House and then applied the same principles to life in general). Let me know what you think if you decide to pick it up!

  5. Anne Says:

    Ah, quiet time. I probably liked it when I was deep in a good book, and didn’t like it when I wasn’t. These days, my “quiet time” is Saturday mornings from about 6:30 to 7:30…before husband is up. Just me, the dogs, and a book. Sometimes I get up early just so I can have it.

  6. Cathy Says:

    This notion of forced quiet time gives me food for thought. I have none to speak of and, having read your words, wonder what I’d actually do during quiet time. I think my kids would be good to have some of this as well. Generally they are very good about playing on their own, but to make it part of a routine would be an interesting test.

  7. Gale Says:

    Cathy – I suspect that if you tried out Quiet Time you’d find that you could fill the time quite easily. An hour a day may seem like a lot of time to fill. But once you get used to having it you’ll find all sorts of things you want to do with it. I’m eager to incorporate mine back into my life.

  8. Dana Udall-Weiner Says:

    I am not good at relaxation, and I feel that blogging has made it worse. (Because there is no definite end, and your schedule can be totally arbitrary, right?) I like forced relaxation, and feel I don’t have enough of it these days. Time alone in a hotel room sounds like the perfect antidote. Not sure how or whether it might come to fruition, but at least I can dream.

  9. Gale Says:

    Dana – I know a woman who does a once-a-year hotel stay. She packs up her books, her sewing machine, and whatever else she might like to do and checks into a local hotel. She has all the peace and quiet she could want. No kids, no household duties, etc. I have enough business travel that I don’t know if it’s something I’d ever do (she’s a SAHM), but I love that she gives herself that gift once a year.

  10. BigLittleWolf Says:

    What a smart idea your mother had. Good for her, and good lessons for you and your sister.

    I, too, traveled on business – for years. I don’t miss it. And there’s nothing so lovely as a snow day – when you’re snug at home with those you love.

  11. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    We could all use a little more quiet time. Modern life seems to mandate against relaxation, fallow periods as you call them, exquisite nothingness. Your mother was a smart woman. Indeed we should all follow her lead for our kids and for ourselves.

  12. Jenna Says:

    Oh my gosh–my Mom did the exact same thing for us! We had 1 hour of ‘quiet time’ during which my sisters and I each had to be in a separate room doing something quiet (napping, reading, playing, etc.). I actually really loved that time.
    As an adult, I wish there was still an hour of designated (and alone) quiet time in each of my days–that would be awesome.

  13. Barb Says:

    I have found over the past three days while our offices are closed (thank you, County Commissioners!) that, while different, adult snow days are equally as serendipitous as childhood snow days!

  14. ayala Says:

    Gale, your mother was a smart woman. I hope that you get to relish all your moments. We all need quiet time, it’s good for the mind and for the soul.

  15. Jana@Attitude Adjustment Says:

    I agree that it’s nice to have forced relaxation. It’s a little hard in a hotel, though. I’m pretty sensitive to my surroundings, and I like a place to be warm and inviting. Vinyl comforters don’t always do the trick.

    But I do think snow days or ice days are really good excuses. That’s why I get so annoyed when people in my neighborhood get up at the crack of dawn to shovel. They don’t know how to relax for a little while before getting back to work.