I’d been holding on to this idea for a long time. It was all wrapped up with shiny paper and stored in the back recesses of my mind. When the writing got tough, I’d pull it out and look at it, encouraging myself to keep going. When I would arrive home at the end of a long day of staring at a computer screen, of checking footnotes, of rephrasing arguments, of bolstering my evidence, of missing out on the summer fun of childhood with my kids, I would go to the website just once before going to bed, reminding myself that rewards big and small awaited me at the end of this journey.
Last Fall that journey came to an end. I submitted the thesis and stood before a panel of researchers to defend my own research. It was a good day. It was a good season of life. The next day, though, I jumped back into regular life. I returned to preparing lectures, grading papers, and making up for lost time with my kids and my partner. I tried to reconnect with friends I’d ignored for those final months of tunnel living. And I shut the door on my basement office, not even touching the piles of papers, books, and post-its that lay strewn on every square inch of furniture and flooring.
Still there, in the back of my head, was that shiny box. I imagined that it would burst open and spill out its goodness to me on the day I submitted, or maybe the day I defended, or maybe the day the Fall term ended. But time and circumstance (and a whole HECK of a lot of guilt) kept that little box pushed to the back. I even stopped checking the website. The holiday season came and went, filled with busy-ness, family-ness, and a lovely (if not a bit sniffly) two night get away with G. And then before I knew it, the new term was upon me. New lectures, new grading, new family activities. That box started to feel like a dusty, never-gonna-get-there dream.
It was one of the dreariest days of February when that shiny box came flying to the front of my mind. I saw an ad that reminded me that I had made a promise to myself. And it was finally time to collect on that promise. Once again I went to the website, ready to rip open the wrapping paper and enjoy the present therein.
Spring came in bits and pieces this year. (Has it actually come…it was just snowing the other day?) But one of the early glorious first days of Spring saw me jump in the car early in the morning and head west. All the way to the Dorset Manor. It is a bit of a hike but I could not get there fast enough. As I made my way through those small-town streets, up the hill and finally pulled into the drive way of the old mansion, I felt a sudden panic. While I’ve been for many a massage, I have never actually indulged in a full spa getaway. And here I was standing at its doorstep. Literally. Would it be obvious? Would I just be nervous and fidgety and not really enjoy the experience? Would everyone know that I was just a teacher? Would I make some major social gaff and not know it?
The instant I walked in the doors, those anxieties flew away. I was met by one of the warmest, most welcoming hostesses, I’ve ever met. She called me by name, took my bags from me, offered me a drink, and by the time she had me signed in, I could already feel the weight being lifted from me. This place felt serene. It felt peaceful. It felt calm. As I walked beside my hostess through the Manor and the grounds, she graciously explained that this was a place of comfort and peace. And I believed her. There was no pretension, no snobbishness, no judgement. Breakfast, lunch and dinner could be taken in my robe, I was told. The hot tub, saunas and lounge areas were open until eleven – if I managed to stay awake that late. Cucumber water, granola, and fruit were always available for snacks between meals. The treatment rooms felt like a hidden cave – candlelight and gentle music really did steal you away from the world. I felt hidden away in a safe, gentle, peaceful place. No one needed anything from me. No one expected anything from me. I was there just to be with myself.
When I was shown my room, I very nearly broke down into tears. Well, actually I did break down into tears but I waited that extra minute until the door was closed and I was….alone. From the bed, I could look out over Lake Ontario. From the big soaker tub I could look out over Lake Ontario. Crisp sheets, an amazing duvet and calm colours all reinforced that indeed I was in a wonderful place. I opened the bottle of wine I had brought (it’s a BYOW place to boot!), ran a bath and watched myself let go.
I sat in the tub and realized that it was worth holding on to that shiny package in my head for all those months. I was giving myself the best present I could think of – time to let go, time to just be me, time to refresh, time to celebrate the milestones I’d achieved. But I also realized in that moment that I was being taught a lesson — next time don’t hold onto the box for so long. Open it regularly.
I won’t even get into the epiphanies I had the next day during my massage….
I think I’ll give myself this present on an annual basis. Maybe it will become my anniversary gift to myself – celebrating that I can set high goals and achieve them. Or just celebrating that it’s good to be me.