For my daughter she needs two things. Cosy reading time and free drawing time. She needs to access imaginary worlds and she needs to create her own. We went away on holiday recently and due to the packing nightmare of a winter holiday for a family of 5, we only took a couple of books and no drawing stuff. We literally saw a gradual decline over the week. She lost her sparkle. She desperately read the same books again and again in the 5 minutes she got before bed, glaring at me when it was time to turn out the lights. I thought she was just over-tired. But no, we had deprived her of the two things she needs to be happy. To be her. At the end of the holiday we found a shop. No she didn't want colouring books. No not a fancy magazine. She wanted plain paper and crayons and space on a table to draw and draw to her heart's content. To pour her soul on to the blank space. To record everything she had done and the people she had done it with. As soon as we got home, she had made herself a nest on the sofa and was absorbing books like her life depended on it.
My son who is four is a determined cook. This obviously takes quite a lot of parental input and preferably an asleep baby brother. He had a tummy bug for a week and at first he was too ill to do anything but lie on the sofa. Then he was too contagious to cook, no one wants a tummy bug infected cookie! The nagging was unbearable. The desperation to help whenever I tried to cook anything. The relief when we finally made some gingerbread together. "I'm going to put the flour in, mummy". He likes instructions, lists, what you do next and helping. And of course, licking out the bowl. We need to cook together at least once a week or frustration and naughtiness ensues. If we didn't have the Viking toddler trying to sabotage our cooking efforts at every turn, he would be happily cooking every day.
It made me think about what our grown up happy places are...they do change. Once upon a time, I used to sit in a tree reading a book like some girl heroine from a nineteenth century novel. Nowadays, I wonder. I have lots of hobbies that I pick up and drop as I get bored or don't have the time to commit. There are things I enjoy doing that are really immersive. I took up the piano again 6 months ago and love tackling a new piece for half an hour, concentrating on nothing else. But I don't get sad if I don't get to play for a while. What do I need to do to keep me ticking over in terms of my mental health?
I've done yoga on and off all my life and have also taught yoga to parents, babies and young children for a couple of years now. Due to stressful building work in our kitchen, I took about 6 months off and it was one of the most difficult times of my life. I think not doing yoga was actually really detrimental to me. Not because I am a yogic guru. Not because I am an acrobatic yoga bunny. I don't need to do it every day. But I need to do it often to feel calm, relaxed, comfortable in my own skin, able to cope. The other thing I love to do is potter about the kitchen listening to the radio. Preferably a cleanish kitchen. Preferably without any small nagging companions, be it the children or a hungry cat. Doing some baking. Not something essential for dinner, just something yummy and cosy like a soup or a crumble. You can see how no kitchen and no yoga for several months was not good for me. And I probably need writing. Time to write is good too.
My other half likes a long, hot bath. In fact, he really needs a long, hot bath to unwind. He also likes pottering in the kitchen listening to sport on the radio. Clearly we can't both potter in the kitchen listening to our own choice of radio station and getting in each other's way. We have to take turns. But recognising what we each need is good. And its really nice when you know that someone else understands how important that thing is to you. That it's not a luxury. It's an essential.
As a family, it works if we all recognise each other's needs. Our individual needs that might change in time, but are really important right now. As mothers, we often surrender our needs to others' that seem more pressing. But once you understand how much you need your thing, your happy place, to be you, then you know it has to come top of the list.