After we bought our little house in Toronto, I became the sort of homebody that didn’t even want to spend a short weekend away from her little house, the projects we had on the go, and the domesticity of home life. Home was a sanctuary, a place in which I wanted to spend as much time as possible. I resented the obligations that would occasionally take us away to other parts of the province for short amounts of time. For about a year, there was no where else I wanted to be.
Eventually, as we wrapped up our projects and got used to the fact that we actually owned property, our attachment to our little house leveled out and became a little healthier, but I have always preferred home to anywhere else. I tend to dread camping trips, holidays, and visits to distant family in the weeks preceding plans, no matter how much I know I’ll enjoy the trip. Even day-to-day, I relish the time spent at home, and constantly feel like I don’t get enough.
But, even a homebody needs to get away.
We have just returned from two weeks of camping* in Prince Edward County. I spent the two weeks with my feet up, reading to my heart’s content, watching my children entertain themselves in a way they are incapable of at home. We left many of our worries at home – housekeeping, diets, the constant hum of social media. We turned off our phones, shifted our focus, re-centred, and recharged.
Retreat does not go naturally with motherhood. It is the sort of work one cannot easily retreat from, especially when one’s children are present. They still wanted to be with us, wanted to include us in their play, in their friendships, in their every small, volatile emotion. Isabel still had her days. Eden still needed diaper changes and help to sleep. More than one night, I found myself stepping away from the campfire at 8pm, called into the trailer by a squalling baby, and not emerging until morning. My girls still needed me; from them, I could not retreat.
And yet, the time out of our regular routines was invaluable. They found new, wonderful ways to occupy themselves, and I found myself with plenty of time for myself, which made me more willing, more content to be present with them when they needed or wanted me. I zipped through book after book. I pushed Isabel on the swing. I introduced Eden to the beach. I sat around the fire with Mark, chatting late into the night. By the second or third day, it was easy for us to recognize that we need aspects of retreat in our everyday lives.
For a part of the week, we wandered the park – it was a private trailer park, at which some friends and family own trailers – debating the possibility of joining the ranks of permanent summer campers. Would we enjoy this, having a place to call our weekend summer home, able to drop the world at a moment’s notice and drive ourselves to our own little space in the country? On one hand, our finances are already tight. On the other, we can easily recognize the ways in which retreat is good for us.
In the end, practicality won out and we shelved the idea for another year. Perhaps next year will be different. But for this year, we instead agreed that, rather than spending some money on creating a retreat away from home, we would do our best to cultivate the elements of retreat in our day-to-day, at least for the remainder of the summer.
What does this mean?
On one hand, for us, it may mean spending a little money to make some changes to our backyard and porch space to make them places in which we want to spend time. We’ve already begun this process to some extent, and I write this from our porch, watching the sky turn pale and dark on a Monday evening. Over the summer, we will work on this space to make it not just useable, but enjoyable, comfortable, beautiful even.
But, retreat is not just about place. It’s also about mindset. It’s that feeling you get when you arrive at your destination, a destination that is not home, where everything is different, and you feel, in some ways, like a new person. It’s as if being in that new place gives you permission to grab hold of the things you want out of life – deep conversation and connection, true leisure. Why else do writers and artists feel the need to escape their lives in order to find creativity? We hope to recreate that feeling, without ever leaving our pretty porch.
For me, this means less social media and more reading, writing, art, and creativity. It means less scrolling through a Facebook feed and more being present and focused. For Mark, it means less TV and more activity – more gardening, more building, more fitness, more reading, more conversation. For both of us, it means staying off the Internet, shedding the sort of distraction that allows the evening to pass in a blur of nothing.
I hope we will be able to hold onto this lesson, this reminder. I hope that we will be able to find retreat at home. If not, if, in a year, we found ourselves back into old habits, perhaps it will be time to invest in that place of retreat.
* I say camping, but only for a lack of a better word. Trailer camping is not really camping, especially when said trailer is hooked up to electrical and water. This is how some people live year-round, and quite comfortably. It’s not camping.