First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 18.1.21
The title for these two pages is “Watercooler Chat” because I hope that, now and then, you will find something here to talk about in whatever your version of a break-room is. But right now I hope you are a long way from the usual run of things, enjoying a summer break from your daily routine.
I like to picture you (I don’t think this is creepy) languid and liquid of limb, lazing about with a magazine (this one, obviously) and maybe a cocktail or cool soda with cucumber and mint, sporting a stylish sunhat and freshly painted toenails, making the place look good.
I appreciate some of you, though, will be working through, staffing the places we need to keep open year round. Hospitals, restaurants, call centres, shops. In which case I hope you get a decent break before too long, maybe next month when everyone’s kids are back at school and the weather is more certain about itself anyway.
Or maybe you don’t go to a separate workplace and you are raising new humans fulltime, and this “holiday” nonsense feels like it doesn’t apply. I remember as a new mother 27 years ago getting to my first Friday and thinking, thank goodness it’s the weekend, before realising I wouldn’t get “a weekend off” for a couple of decades. I promise you, it’s lovely when you get here. Your knees are a bit stiff and you can never find your glasses but, other than that, empty-nesting can be its own much-awaited reward.
However you are doing January, I hope by now you are into the swing of things. I have a theory that holidays are only ever one-third as long as they should be – we spend the first third getting into the right frame of mind to enjoy them, and then spend the last third worrying that very soon we are going back to work. There is an element of “Hurry up and relax!” at the beginning, and then “Tense up! It’s almost over!” near the end.
I’ve found some ways to switch gears. Try disconnecting from the usual stuff that occupies your attention and drags your focus out of the present. Quit watching the news for a day or three – chances are nothing is happening and the journalists who caught the short straw for summer coverage are desperately filling bulletins with cats up trees and shark sightings. You don’t need to know about any of this unless the sharks start getting stuck in nearby trees.
And it is easy to get the feeling from social media that the sun is brighter and the cocktails bigger wherever other people are. Likely, this is nonsense and they’re using some kind of camera filter, plus something ghastly is probably happening just out of frame – so don’t torture yourself with Other People’s Lives.
Go to bed when you’re tired, not when the TV show finishes, and get up when you wake up (or the kids do) but not with an alarm. Hide all the clocks. And the mirrors. Dress the way it feels good from the inside, not looks good from the outside. I suggest togs and a sarong on the off chance there will be a swim.
Distract yourself with the new – throw yourself off a bridge and scare yourself (nothing like it for shifting your mind-set) or visit places you always recommend to visitors to your town but have never been yourself. And if that’s too adventurous, just try a new breakfast cereal and give the start of your day a fresh flavour. Stop reading about Trump. Make your world smaller – be interested in what happens in your house, your garden, your bit of beach. It’s slower where you are, and it is yours.
But also, don’t expect it to be idyllic. As much as we all look forward to a summer break, it is weird being thrust together with people you usually say goodbye to at 8am and catch up with at the end of the day during the breaks between Netflix episodes. Sometimes you don’t know how busy you’ve been till you stop being busy, and then you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. Plus you’ve suddenly got time to mention how much you don’t like wet towels left on the bathroom floor. So there may be tears, tantrums, nagging, sulks, and fights to deal with. Plus whatever the kids get up to.
So give yourself credit if you haven’t entirely lost the plot during this season of familial over-familiarity. You will be released back to the office soon enough. Pour yourself another soda, tip that sunhat forward and pretend you’re taking a nap. In a moment, you might be. And you know what? Exuding calm and peace like that? You make your bit of the world look good.