Going Down to the Sea (Again)

30 Apr 2019

Weekends have changed in the Wednesday household.

My younger daughter needs a bit more support just now, so I'm taking her down to the coast to spend time with her friend Emma, who she normally only sees in the holidays.

Last Saturday I took her to Emma's house and left them both there, sitting at the kitchen table with a pile of homework, under the eagle eye of Emma's mother, and took myself back to my own quarters.

I had nothing to do.

I looked around. Everything was clean. I'd washed up from breakfast. I hadn't brought my laptop down with me so there were no emails to answer; no writing to do. There were no heaps of dirty laundry and no pile of ironing. The paper mountain of filing was all at home. I was totally free of responsibility and the day was mine to spend as I wished. What's more, because the weather was atrocious – the wind skating with icy determination over the waves and straight onto the sea wall, bringing a sulky slap of rain with it – I did not even feel the moral duty to go out into the fresh air and get some exercise.

So, I spent the most glorious day doing nothing.

"Nothing" looks different for different people. "Nothing" looks like messing about in boats for some people. "Nothing" looks like catching up on the complete box set of Friends or Game of Thrones to others. "Nothing" looks like twelve hours of Instagram and Snapchat to my daughter.

"Nothing" for me was a desultory placing of a few jigsaw puzzle pieces in the 1500-piece puzzle we have had going since Christmas. I spent some of that "nothing" chatting with a friend in Melbourne. I read a frivolous book. I made three beautiful and elaborate greeting cards, with a set of papers I had had for ages but never used.

"Nothing" was wonderful - until the serpent of guilt slithered by.

"Why are you enjoying yourself when your daughter is studying for her test?" he asked. "How can you be relaxing when your husband is at home picking up all those tasks you have neglected?" "How dare you create when your friend is watching your daughter – you bad, lazy and irresponsible mother!"

I tried to dismiss him, but he twined around me and would not let go. So hard did he cling that I mentioned him to my daughter and Emma when they came back for dinner.

Emma gave me a big hug (because, at fourteen, she is already much taller than I), "Oh, you are so sweet!" she said. "We spend all summer doing nothing and you cook and clean and wash our clothes and drive us everywhere! I'm so pleased you had a lovely day doing nothing." She nudged my daughter, hard. "Tell her that YOU are glad she's had a nice day doing nothing!" she demanded.

And I realised something. It's absolutely okay to do nothing.


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