Have you ever unplugged for a week? I'm talking no phone, no Internet, no cable. It's a challenge for sure, but one that somehow opens up new space in your brain that was previously filled with noise.
Every year my family and I go up to a fairly secluded Maine beach. The closest major town is a 30-minute drive. To access the phone you have to hop in the car and drive five minutes to the point.
Before I left this year I had a million things on my mind. We put our house on the market the week before I left. I began working a second part-time job on top of my full-time one. I needed to sign my daughter Vivi up for soccer and son Dexter for basketball and football. I needed to find homes for my cats and guinea pig. I had to clean the house for showings and find a dog-sitter. Leases needed my signature and boxes needed packing. A slew of other worries and concerns occupied my every thought.
With so many overwhelming things taking control, I started to work out less and perform tasks I didn't necessarily want to tackle, but had to.
On the five-hour drive up from our Massachusetts home, I banned any electronics other than the radio and CD's we borrowed from the library. I regretted that decision about three hours in when we were stuck in traffic near the New Hampshire border.
"Are we almost there? How much longer?" -- words no parent ever wants to hear -- were orated every five minutes.
Finally we arrived at our cabin. We unloaded our food for the week, clothing, bedding, towels and everything else. I threw the food into the fridge and got into my bathing suit, lathered the kids up with sun tan lotion and hit the beach.
My brother and his family were already there and had our sandy spot set up.
I sat and caught up with my brother and sister-in-law and watched as my kids, nieces and nephew reconnected.
After an hour I knew I needed to get into the water. I grabbed a boogie board and hit the waves with the kids. It's difficult not to smile when you are bouncing and jumping in the ocean surf.
And that's when I realized it.
I'm a pretty positive person. I'm always trying to find the good in people and make the best of horrid situations. But this past year has been a doozy. Family illnesses, a change in marital status, selling the house, financial stresses -- there have been times I've been so overwhelmed I can't even cry. I am completely paralyzed.
But in that moment, catching a ride with Dexter, Vivi and my nephew Nolan, I recognized I haven't truly SMILED in a long time. Sure, I've politely grinned and laughed here and there, but my soul knew it wasn't totally sincere.
I looked over to see the kids beaming with happiness and my body relaxed. I laughed, a real laugh, and rode the board all the way to the end of the surf.
Pushing up to avoid the wave crashing behind me, I felt good for the first time in a long time. I felt healthy, I felt strong -- I felt at peace.
All that mattered was right there in front of me. My kids and my family. We rode the waves for an hour and then I headed back to sit with my brother.
With salty skin and wet hair I plopped down into my beach chair, grabbed a beer from the cooler and sipped.
No phone rang, no text beeped, no television blared.
Instead, I heard the sweet sounds of children giggling and the waves rolling in.
Maybe I won't always be able to hop on a board and feel better; instead, it might involve practicing yoga, reading a book or snuggling up watching a lightening storm with my kids.
Going forward, unplugging, even for five minutes a day, is important.
It's time when I can throw up a "no vacancies" sign and stop letting so many unwanted renters in my head.