Unwinding the Stress

I came out of the theater happy even though I wasn’t certain I’d enjoyed the movie. The summer air was warm even at 1am and the world had that quiet feeling it gets when most of the people in the city have already gone to bed. We weren’t alone at that late night showing, but people dispersed quickly afterward. I felt light and free. The movie (Lucy) wasn’t my favorite, but it had many things to discuss, praise, and rant about, which made it a great movie for Howard and I. We love to dissect movies after we’ve seen them. Howard held my hand as we walked to the car. We’ve been married twenty years. We share four kids, a household, and a business. We slip into business conversations without even thinking about it. Yet sometimes we can shed all of that and just be Howard and Sandra. I wanted to stay out in the summer air and just twirl around in that freedom.

Instead I got to dash back to the theater because I’d felt so free that I’d forgotten to pick up my purse when exiting. I got it back without trouble. Even the dash back to the theater felt exhilarating, not worrisome. It was exactly what I needed after a day which had been filled with flashes of random stress and anxiety. We didn’t linger, we went home and to bed like responsible adults who like their jobs and know they get to do them again in the morning. I suppose in my case it helped that my job for the morning was to take the kids to the water park.

Public places like water parks can be highly stressful. For most of my parenting years they were exactly that. Then the kids got older and we became familiar enough with the park that the whole experience was more predictable. I’ve often heard it said that humans seek out novel experiences. Our family does too, but we like the new things to be structured around predictable things. If I have too many variables to track, then I experience stress rather than relaxation. There are times when the stress of new experiences is good. What I wanted and needed was to extend the relaxation which began with the late night movie. So I swam with the kids and felt the sun dry me off. I got just a little bit sunburned in the places that I missed with the sunscreen. We came home ready for a slow afternoon.

I still had things to do, of course. I’d earned a slower day by working frantically earlier in the week, but there were some things that needed to be complete before the weekend. Those things fit into the afternoon between the water park and the church picnic.

Tables were set up in a cul de sac. Some of the men had pulled out their grills and were cooking hamburgers. The members of the congregation had brought their chairs and were mingling around the tables of food and across the lawns. I thought that I probably ought to be reaching out and reconnecting to the many people that I care about who were present. Instead I found myself a quiet spot where I could watch. I wanted to be there, but I had low social energy. I caught up with some friends who came to sit with me. I was glad of that. I also loved watching the multi-generational crowd as they ate and played with the dunk tank set up in front of one of the houses. I’ve lived in this neighborhood long enough to watch some kids grow up and have kids of their own. I loved that I could be part of it, even when I mostly sat and watched.

I walked home in the cooler air of the evening. Our back lawn was soft under my feet. I paused a moment to survey the spot where our deck used to be. I like it better without the deck there. It feels more open. I’ll like it even better when the space is something lovelier than a patch of dirt. Yet it is nice to have a project that can wait until later, when we’re not in high summer. We’ve only a few more weeks of hot summer left.

I’ve been watching the end of July come closer. As soon as we hit August, we’re in the last slide toward the school year. I’ll have to pull out the letters from the school and figure out what they hoped I’d do with the kids over the summer. We’ll have only bare reading logs when the first day of school arrived. The kid read plenty over the summer, but I excused them and myself from tracking or measuring any of it. Today I managed to do the same for myself and it was good.