By Paige Polcene-Markin
We are mothers.
We breastfeed our babies and bake their birthday cakes. We coach piano practice and soccer practice. We kiss the hurts and wipe the tears.
We are daughters.
We buy groceries and fill prescriptions. We bring the meals and rent books on tape. We give back what was given to us.
We are women.
We plan board meetings and bake sales. We write grocery lists and letters to the editor. We teach the future.
In Gifts from the Sea , Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes, "Eternally, woman spills herself away in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace, to let the pitcher fill up to the brim" (45). These words, originally published in 1955, still hold true today. Our energy and creativity is poured out on those we love and, all too often, the pitcher is empty with no well in sight.
All women need a time to unwind, to be creative, and to rest. We deserve the opportunity to reconnect with other women and to rejuvenate our body and spirit. There is a way to come together to fill the pitcher of our souls. With a little imaginative planning, we can give the gift of renewal to ourselves and to the women in our lives. We can offer a day away from the commotion; a day of rest, of inspiration and of conversation; a day off to replenish our store of energy and enthusiasm for life.
The days of renewal I have attended have been many and varied. They've taken place in mountain cabins, beach houses, churches, and homes; but they've all had an important element in common. They have provided a sacred space for women, a space of safety and vision.
The possibilities are endless when planning this special day. First, I keep in mind the women I have invited. I want to stretch them physically, mentally and creatively. This stretch, when accomplished, can be very rejuvenating. The activities, though, should not make them so uncomfortable that it affects their enjoyment of the day. I reassure my guests that they are welcome to participate in any or all activities, but that they can feel comfortable to decline and to take a quiet time to read, write, or rest instead.
The day begins with introductions and muffins. Guests may use this time to make nametags or have a cup of coffee with a friend. When everyone has arrived, we gather for a moment of quiet. This can consist of prayer, guided meditation or focused breathing and stretching. It is the time to center ourselves and to proclaim together the sacredness of the day, and our commitment to this time away. When this is done, I introduce my guests to the flow of the day and I remind them to choose the activities that speak to them.
Next we do a group exercise that encourages us to connect with each other. One of my favorites is called wagon-wheel talking, in which the group rotates partners to spend three minutes sharing on each topic I give them. Another is to gather the women in small groups to tell the stories of the sentimental objects they have brought with them.
When we've had a chance to relax and feel comfortable with each other, it's time to move into the creative endeavor of the morning. We shouldn't underestimate the importance of creativity in our lives. It centers us, renews us and inspires us. Jan Phillips, author and photographer, tells us to "celebrate not only the joy of creating, but also the joy of being re-created ourselves" (xi). She says that "in our creating, we ourselves are created, added to, enlightened" (xii).
Our art-making could include anything from assembling quilt squares to creating mandalas, from collage, to paint, to sculpture. As we complete our creations, we place them around the room for others to see. We may even have another sharing time to discuss the fruits of the creative process.
Sharing the mid-day meal provides another opportunity for my guests to visit and relax. I like to keep it simple, especially if I am preparing it myself. It usually consists of salads or sandwich materials I've put together the day before, but sometimes I ask my guests to bring an offering to share. The most important thing about lunch is that no one has to do the dishes. I save them for the next day, or use recyclable paper goods.
When lunch is over it's time for siesta. This is an important time of the day. I have a tendency to over-schedule the afternoon. There are, after all, so many fun things to do. But my guests need to unwind and relax; to spend time renewing relationships or making new friends.
After a bit of quiet, we're ready for something a little more physical, perhaps a hike in the woods, a walk to the park, or yoga in the backyard. My greyhound, Calhoun, especially loves this last option. For those who would prefer less demanding pursuits, planting a geranium in a pretty pot, working on a jigsaw puzzle, writing, or drawing can be fun.
The day comes to an end in late afternoon, with a cup of tea and a slice of cake. At this time, I like to have my guests share a favorite poem or story. This is also a good time for a game of "dictionary" or "charades."
Daylight begins to fade and my friends say a sad goodbye, not always ready to return to the thirsty world. But they go, clutching their artwork and their infants. Their pitcher filled, if not quite to the brim, perhaps approaching it. Barbara, a regular renewal day participant, says "Renewal days are a chance to relax, have fun, try something new, connect with other women and with ourselves. I think what makes them so special is that the day is so real: real food and exercise for the body, real art and friendship for the soul. It's nothing that can be bought or watched."
For many of us, this kind of day sounds impossible, or certainly not something to be grasped in this decade. We are connected to our children, both emotionally and physically. We need to wait until they are ready to separate to have time for ourselves. I can't count the number of retreats I longed for but didn't attend because my baby wasn't welcome and I wasn't ready to leave her, even for a day.
Since babies need their moms and, just as importantly, moms need their babies, we can't fully relax when we are separated. This is why these little ones need to be welcomed at renewal days, right along with their mothers. I've never been to a renewal without seeing infants in slings, toddlers playing on the floor, or babies being held lovingly by anyone with a free set of arms. Far from being a distraction, babies can be a joy, especially for those of us who have had years pass since holding a baby of our own.
Just as it is important to have the youngest attend these days of rest and creativity, it is very valuable to invite women of all ages to join us. Psychologist and author, Brenda Hunter, says, "we look to other women to help us understand and shape our lives" (20). Those of us in the early years of parenting can benefit from tapping in to the wisdom of women who have been on their journey a little longer than we. Similarly, older women often feel refreshed after spending a day in the company of energetic youth.
Regardless of whom we invite or what activities we plan, as the host of a day of renewal, we may wave goodbye to our friends and realize that we, ourselves, haven't had any time to relax, create, or visit. Rather, we find that our own pitcher has been replenished by a sense of accomplishment and the joy of knowing that we've given a priceless gift to a group of special women. Now, though, it's time to plan some personal renewal. Arrange a day at the beach, a trip to the local art museum, or a walk in the woods with your journal or sketchbook. Don't make this someday. Put it on the calendar and give this gift to yourself, as well.
When we take time for quiet, creativity, and connection, it reaffirms who we are and what we do.
We share insights and chocolates. We love and care for each other's children. We nurture the world.
We are sisters.
Paige Polcene-Markin is a homeschooling mother of two, practicing doula, and part-time English professor. She plans renewal days for herself and is always delighted when her friends come along.
Cameron, Julia . The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity . New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1992.
Ealy, C Diane . The Woman's Book of Creativity . Hillsboro : Beyond Words, 1995.
Hunter, Brenda . In the Company of Women: Deepening our Relationships with the Important Women in our Lives.Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Friends & Mentors . Sisters, Multnomah Publishers, 1994.
Lindbergh, Anne Morrow . The Gift of the Sea . New York : Random House, 1955.
McMeekin, Gail . The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women: A Portable Mentor . Berkeley : Conari Press, 2000.
Phillips, Jan . Marry Your Muse: Making a Lasting Commitment to Your Creativity . Wheaton : Quest Books, 1997.