So much of our lives are spent doing something or being someone particular — living out a prescribed role, performing tasks to meet goals. And there is nothing wrong with that. But it is lovely, even necessary, to spend some time just being a person. It’s a reminder that you are simply a human, when you strip away all your titles and to-do lists.
This week, a few friends, my 2 year old daughter Olive, and I drove over the bridge to the East Bay, where the weather is warmer and the vibe is chiller. The beach in San Francisco is majestic for sure, but way too cold to swim in, and you usually leave so windswept you feel a touch of vertigo. I needed something tamer, so we headed to a tiny forest-backed cove in Alameda, with a bluff that overlooks the water below.
At first I thought it might be a mistake to go to the beach with Olive without another kid, only 4 adults. My daughter is the most social animal I’ve ever met, and will go to great lengths to find the nearest kid to play with, even if they are much older and have no interest in her whatsoever. However, I forgot that one of the adults we brought was her godfather, who is the absolute best at play, and is in his natural habitat at the beach. A California dude through and through, he is most himself at the ocean. He instantly took her down to the water and started digging, creating little pools for her to jump into and castles for her to be “Monster Olive” and knock down.
And I got to sit on a blanket, and just be. My camera wasn’t working, so I couldn’t even be in the role of “documenter”. I chatted with the other friends that joined us, people-watched (which is just as good in Oakland as it is in SF), and took in the beauty.
I recalled a conversation I recently had with Olive’s Waldorf preschool teacher about stimulation. I told her that I was really enjoying the philosophy of trying not to overstimulate my child — with TV, frequent changes that take her out of our weekly rhythm, and too many new people. But some experiences that happen to be overstimulating, like participating in a street festival or going to a party, are also really positive, and things I want her to be able to experience. So how, I asked the teacher, do I get her back to equilibrium afterwards? I feel like I pay for it with her behavior for at least a full day each time.
“Go into nature,” she said. And that made sense to me. In nature there is not the loud roar of the hand dryer in the public bathroom, the jackhammer of road work, the cat calls from the bros on the street. There is time just to be.
I love that my daughter still has a few years before most of her time will be consumed with school, and then work. She is not really a “student” yet, she’s just a small person. And it suits her — she is learning so much just in the course of life.
I used to despise the Biblical concept of “rest”, since I always liked to be doing. What did it matter, to rest, when there were so many worthwhile things to do? Now, I get it. I need time where I am not a writer with deadlines, a lapsed therapist who needs to take her MFT exam, an American, a woman.
Sitting there on that bluff in the sun, I didn’t even really need to be in the role of mother, as my child’s godfather was pretty much taking care of that. I could ease up on it. Even when Olive took a crap in her bathing suit bottoms, one of my friends cleaned them out while I cleaned her. I’ve cleaned my fair share of crap-filled underwear lately, so it was definitely appreciated.
Anyway, it felt amazing to just be a human on earth. I connected deeply with gratitude, and with all the other feelings percolating in me this week. I felt grateful even for the difficult ones. I was just me.
When was the last time you took an hour just to be you? Not a yoga student, or a lawyer, a husband, a chef, a TV-watcher. If you can’t remember, I encourage you to slough off those roles and responsibilities for one short time period, and simply let yourself be a person. Though it was just for one morning, it was deeply restorative for me.