The Unexpected Blessings of Slowing Down — Even if It’s Not by Choice


I have struggled to write this piece.

Oh, it was fine kicking the idea around in my brain last month. I planned to share a little bit of my non-pandemic-related experience in needing to slow down and stay home with my family, a nice little list focusing on all the warm and fuzzy moments that taking a step back from day-to-day busy-ness can create.

But that was last month, before the Thanksgiving holiday warnings started flooding headlines and social streams as COVID numbers went up and up and up. Now, as we all stare into the abyss of trying to figure out how to celebrate major holidays with the people we love while still in the midst of a global health crisis — well, my little warm and fuzzy moments, I admit, might seem a bit unequal to the moment.

Still — having dealt with anxiety as an adult and a mom, I know that one small warm and fuzzy moment in a day can be a big thing to hold onto when you’re mentally and emotionally on the fritz.

So with that: Here are a few lessons I’ve found in moments of peace and calm with my family as we hunkered down over the past two autumns — last year, when I threw out my back, and this year, when my toddler broke his leg.

a woman holds a latte and laptop in bed

Let the dishes wait.

Or the yard work or the laundry. In the first few days after my son broke his leg, we tried to keep up with the nightly routine of loading every last dish into the dishwasher and wiping down the table and counters. And then we realized — why? I mean, we haven’t let it go completely to waste — but if we need to, the dishes, on occasion, wait until morning now.

We also didn’t mow or do any yard work for the six weeks my son was in his cast and then boot. Yes, the leaves piled up, but you know what? They got cleared out, eventually, just ahead of the pick-up schedule.

Get some rest.

In the early days of my son’s broken leg, my husband and I took turns co-sleeping with him in our guest room to make sure he didn’t roll himself out of the bed overnight. At first, I was annoyed to have to block off so much time when it was my night to take the watch — but it turns out I needed sleep, too.

Having an under-the-weather kiddo is exhausting; so is being a part of the world in 2020. Give yourself a break and go to bed early.

Also, sleep late.

One of my favorite days of 2020 so far was the Saturday my son — with his newly-broken leg — and I each slept in until 9 a.m. And when he woke up, my son wanted to stay in bed and watch videos, and for once, I said yes. And then I got a cup of coffee and my laptop and got back into bed, too. I spent the next hour doing some work that filled my soul and getting cuddles while the sun hit the trees outside the window. I’ve been living on that glorious hour for weeks.

Lower your expectations.

Last fall was rough. After my back pain finally started to ebb, I was still exhausted and emotionally spent. We got a Christmas tree, but we only managed to get the lights on it — and then, there it sat. We kept thinking we’d get around to putting the ornaments on, but it just never happened. You know when we finally decorated the tree? New Year’s Eve. But for the weeks before that, it glowed and glowed and delighted all three of us anyway.

Less can be more.

I’m one of those people who usually ends up with a tiny pile of tiny gifts for each person in my life each holiday season because I keep seeing things and can’t pass them up. But last year I had zero energy for shopping, so we committed to one item for each person on the list. Shopping time? Saved. Wrapping time? Shorter. Complaints? Zero.

It’s OK to say “no.”

Listen, you do you — I’m definitely not here to offer any advice on navigating complicated family negotiations for the 2020 holidays. (Been there, still there.) But if you do need to say “no” to something this holiday season — not just invitations from others, but also your own favorite traditions — trust me when I say it’s not the end of the world.

Most years, I’m a baking whirlwind in the week before Thanksgiving — cookies, pecan pie, cornbread for stuffing. This year I felt like making nothing, so that’s exactly what I made. Nothing. And I know it’s hard to believe, but absolutely no one has noticed.

Simply being is sometimes enough.

As my husband and I have discussed canceling various plans over the past few weeks, my mind has tended to wander toward all the things we could get done with our potentially newfound “free” time. Trim the bushes! Organize the basement! Do all the special-cycle laundry that never gets done! But you know what? Sometimes doing a bit of nothing is the way to go.

There was a day last fall, when I was stuck on my couch with ice packs on my back, and my husband was sitting with me while my son played on the floor. And I realized that, on a normal day, if one of us was hanging out with the kiddo, then the other would be rushing around taking care of something else — dishes, laundry, yard work (see above).

In that moment, the three of us were simply together. And that was more than enough.