As you read this, I’ll be doing something unusual. Something that normally fills me with a mixture of longing and discomfort. A thing I struggle to do because it is so far outside my normal routine of rushing, bustling, juggling, squeezing things in. I’ll be doing nothing.
Despite loving 25 December, my favourite time of year is that strange pause between Christmas and New Year: Twixtmas. The sun itself seems to struggle to get very far above the horizon during this lazy week. Days are elf-short and the light is low and there seems little point in committing to an outside chore or day trip.
Many of our usual destinations are closed anyway. Local shops, attractions and small businesses shut their doors. So even those of us who are prone to overstocking our lives find it blessedly hard to get things done.
Heavy with turkey and chocolate, my get-up-and-go gets lost among the recycled wrapping paper. For these few days, I am given permission – by myself and the world – to move, think and react more slowly. There’s no school-run stress and the kids wear their gravy-stained pyjamas for days. The normal multitude of opportunities to forget a school trip/costume/project/permission slip/cake sale simply don’t exist. My motherhood emotional burden, the carrying of a mental Rolodex containing everything, from dentist appointments to which school friend is flavour of the month, is temporarily unloaded.
Women, especially mothers, expect and are expected to be busy all the time – it’s emotional labour and it’s so ingrained in society it’s hard to escape. I am lucky enough to have a partner who tries hard to share things equally, but it’s me, not my husband, who has been conditioned to pick up the emotional, physical and practical burdens when they are set at my feet. Wider family, friends, the school and society still expect me, and not my partner, to arrange playdates and birthday parties, to do the food shopping and keep track of family birthdays – and do it all with grace.
There’s no one to respond to my emails. Even Instagram feels deserted
It is me, not him, who has grown up in a world that still believes a woman’s job is in the home, while telling me I must succeed in my career and relationships, and be financially independent and spiritually enlightened. Throughout the year, the pressure piles on and it is hard to resist it, take stock, recognise the overwhelm and put some of it down.
But, thankfully, Twixtmas has come, bringing with it an absence, rather than the usual overstuffedness of my life. Even if I want to busy myself with career ideas, I quickly give up – everyone else is watching Christmas specials and eating turkey curry. There’s no one to respond to my emails. Even Instagram feels deserted.
This enforced pause that I’m fortunate enough to have access to once a year reminds me of the value of something it’s easy to ignore, but might be at the root of contentment. Something I’ve only had the opportunity to learn in my work supporting pregnant and birthing women as a doula: the importance of just being – rather than doing. Being there for someone in labour, holding space for them and resisting the urge to talk, arrange things or massage them is a learned skill. And it’s hard to do. But when I can manage it, I feel a huge sense of peace. It’s noticed and valued by the women and families I work with. The still solidness of being present in a moment, aware of yourself and noticing those around you is comforting to both giver and the receiver.
In my usual life, outside the birth room, I still struggle to accept that it’s OK for me to just be. As a woman, as a mother, and feeling all the pressure that can come with those roles, I’m propelled towards constant motion and action. But, thanks to Twixtmas, I know I will emerge on 2 January finding myself ever so slightly reset, with a clearer head that’s kinder to, and more appreciative of, myself.
But, in these dimly lit late December days, I can simply give myself up to the now. I can breathe in the year that has passed and look forward to the 12 months ahead – completely, joyously unable to do anything about it.