For one year in my early 20’s, I was a nanny for a baby named Nathan. Nathan was the cutest baby in the world. Until he got tired.
Now, we adults like to think we’re rational beings. And as rational beings, here’s how we think it should go:
Baby gets tired. Baby goes to sleep.
Nathan thought it should be more like this:
Baby gets tired. Baby goes postal.
In fact, when Nathan was tired, the very LAST thing he wanted to do was go to sleep. He’d squirm. He’d fling things. He’d get needy. He’d cry. He’d fuss. This would last for hours.
After I had mentally quit my job about 16 different times, he’d finally fall asleep. Usually across my chest on the sofa after slapping my face and grabbing my hair for a little while just to prove he wasn’t tired.
He’d wake up shiny, rested, and blissfully unaware of the havoc he just wreaked on his caretaker. “Ah life!” he seemed to say, “And how was YOUR nap?”
I thought of Nathan this past week on my vacation.
We all need vacations and time away from our work like babies need naps. (Hell, we could all use lots more naps, too!) Vacations are terrific. They are necessary.
As rational adults, we know this.
And I know something else too. I know that Nathan is not the only example of resistance to rest. Some of us can enter our vacations kicking and screaming inside, wreaking all kinds of havoc in our own heads, convincing ourselves that we don’t need sleep! We need to stay busy! In fact, our minds often go even faster once they figure out we’re trying to relax and that there’s pressure to do it within a week!
I understand this about myself the way I came to understand Nathan’s nap aversion. So, here’s what I do:
When I go on vacation, I quietly give myself permission to have three full days for my bitchy self to throw her mini-tantrums, make her judgments on my reading choices, criticize, attack, and yammer on and on about a wide variety of topics. I do not resist. Nor do I tell her to shut up. I simply know she’s fighting her nap.
If I give her these three days, something will happen.
It’ll be a moment on Day 2. I’ll get lost in watching a sandpiper’s funny little legs run as fast as he can away from the water. I will breathe and remember myself. My bitchy self will shut up and watch with me. Then, she’ll jump back up with a new and improved nervous thought. (This is not unlike those occasions when Nathan’s eyes would droop nearly shut and then “Sproing!” He’d jerk awake and start wriggling to get free.)
Then, more moments with more sandpipers and sea glass and angles of sunlight will happen, capturing me in their beauty and timelessness. Eventually, the bitchy nervous self will feel her eyes droop closed, and she won’t fight it. Her eyes stay closed, and my vacation becomes transformative.
So, this is how to have a tantrum-free vacation:
Start with awareness. Give yourself permission. Be practical about it. (I call my process “The 3-Day Bitch Wall.”)
Whether your tantrum-thrower shows up as a busy crazy woman or a driven ambitious guy, just allow them to be there without judging their insanity. (Judging will only make them work harder. Trust me!) Allowing, on the other hand, will give them the space to diffuse and eventually to sleep.
“Every time you create a gap in the stream of mind, the light of your consciousness grows stronger. One day you may catch yourself smiling at the voice in your head, as you would smile at the antics of a child. This means that you no longer take the content of your mind all that seriously, as your sense of self does not depend on it.” – Eckhart Tolle