Two weeks ago, my ever surprising husband took me away for the weekend for our tenth wedding anniversary. It was a milestone, he rightly said, and one that we needed to mark. Something to add to our bank of memories. And I, he thought, really needed some sun.
I couldn’t have agreed with him more. Apart from the fact that I never again have license to complain about his lack of romantic gestures, everything about this idea was brilliant. A spontaneous 48 hours on our own with no agenda, no meals to cook and no one to think of apart from ourselves. Much as I completely love my children, two days childfree is a treat whichever way you look at it.
We decided on Ibiza. Blue sky, incredible water, beach bars, long lunches in orange groves and late dinners spilling onto the street- as well as my ultimate luxury, the mandatory siesta. It ticked every box. (I am all for a city-break and a museum or two, but somehow not having the pressure to be cultured felt like an added bonus ).
So day one, and we were up before the birds to catch a proper red-eye. I was slightly dreading the 4am start but, without children in tow, it was practically a pleasure. A couple of hours and a power nap later and we were making straight for breakfast on the beach, squinting into brilliant sunshine for the first time in months. And it was as early as this that I discovered a potential spanner in my otherwise perfect works. In the excitement of packing too many dresses I had forgotten to pack a book. Maybe not a problem for some, but a borderline disaster for me. Realistically I can live without a book, but two days to myself and no page-turning novel to lose myself in was feeling like a missed opportunity. I very nearly screeched out loud. I definitely did on the inside.
For those of you who have never had children, my sincerest advice is to read as much as you possibly can now because reading, alongside going to the cinema and having a lie-in, will become something you almost never do. ( And because reading four lines and then passing out, book on head and often dribbling, of an evening doesn’t count as reading )
Holidays are my one chance to indulge in the ultimately anti-social but glorious act of immersing myself in a book, sometimes with such intensity that I forget to breathe. Two days with no one’s schedule to heed but my own and NO book felt almost sacrilege.
So much so that I very nearly insisted we give up half of our precious two days to go hunting for some literature to indulge me. But then I decided not to bother. I was hungry and the beach was too close. Maybe, I thought to myself, I will just sit in the sun for a while. And do nothing. And I have to say, how I rate doing nothing. Because before very long, whilst I was literally doing nothing ( and by that I mean, not eating, chatting, reading, not doing anything) I found something so unfamiliar that to begin with it almost felt uncomfortable. Head space.
As any of you with children will testify too, family life is decidedly lacking in space. Bombast, colour, chaos and love it has in spades, but space is very definitely an outmoded concept post the pitter-patter of tiny feet. And I always thought it was physical space that I was talking about when I proclaimed, sometimes loudly, ‘I need some space’. The space to detach from a little being who was clinging to my leg or climbing on my back. Or the space to be able to go somewhere or do something without at least one but very often three extra people in tow, even if that somewhere was as decidedly unglamorous as the toilet. Or the space from their different demands that often came (come) in breathless succession.
But the truth is, it’s not just our children who take up space, but modern life and its frenetic pace and crucially, its capacity to distract us. The minute there is even the glimpse of a void, it can (and usually is) filled with phones and facebook, texting and twitter, pinterest and instagram and the multitude of other sites and gadgetry ( or in my case written words) that clutter our mind and, ultimately, feed what can fast become a greedy addiction to distraction.
Obviously its not all bad- I am not throwing the baby out with the bath water here and there is something to be said for it all, and most especially the written word- but there is so much at our immediate disposal, both the frivolous and the less so, that whenever we have an opportunity to do nothing, we don’t.
We fill the gaps and clog up the spaces, until we have forgotten what it is to just sit, and look, and ponder and just be. The latter especially being a well-explored philosophical concept and a much touted route to happiness which the vast majority of us so rarely practice. And it is, to my mind, highly underrated.
Admittedly I didn’t have any sacred or profane revelations, in this newfound head-space of mine. But I was able to think about things for more than a disjointed nanosecond. And instead of burying my nose in a book, I actually looked around and noticed things that I would have otherwise ignored, or quickly forgotten. And though it meant that I took an almost embarrassing number of photos of plants and unusual Mediterranean flowers that I had taken the time to marvel at – my thirteen year old daughter was bemused and might have even rolled her eyes –it also meant my actual memories are that much more vivid, that instead of always being a million miles away, I had actually been there, drinking in the whole experience ( alongside the lunch time wine), and giving my head some much needed time to unravel. And it was this, more than anything else, that made the whole experience a proper, and rather heavenly, break.
‘No, you can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime, you just might find
You get what you need’
The Rolling Stones