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I had two recent experiences that had a big impact on me.
In early November, on my trip out to LA for CareFest, the flight timing meant I would arrive with most of an entire unscheduled day in front of me. Having a free day like this is such a rarity for me (and probably most employed parents) that it felt somehow risky like I wouldn’t spend it wisely if I didn’t plan for something “great” to do while in a cool city I hadn’t visited in a decade. When I arrived at LAX I decided to swing by to meet the newest member of my family, a second cousin. I arrived to see baby Charlie just before naptime. My cousin’s wife joined me to hang out at a nearby Venice Beach cafe. I hadn’t seen her in many years, so we just ate lunch, caught up, and hung out. I had no time I had to be anywhere, so when we returned to the house, we hung out more until Charlie woke up. I didn’t have any evening plans so we decided we’d surprise some other cousins who had no idea I’d be in town and join them for dinner. I got to have meaningful reconnection time with family in a delightfully impromptu way that couldn’t have turned out better, even with weeks of email planning and coordination.
I think part of my openness to allowing a day like this to unfold was that I’ve been reading Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time by Sheila Liming. The book is filled with personal anecdotes from the author about participating in these agenda-less spaces like parties and jam sessions and the intellectual, creative, and connective magic it can bring. What I like about this exploration of hanging out is that its benefits feel important and yet aren’t immediately quantifiable as valuable in a capitalistic framework. It’s below even a hobby in its productivity quotient. And hanging out with other people, like a sister, resting, is the ultimate anti-capitalist activity. While I’ve found Liming’s book intriguing, it’s frustrating because so many of the stories and examples feel wildly inaccessible to those with intense and regular caregiving responsibilities. The author doesn’t have children herself, and her relative time abundance to take advantage of these hang-out opportunities feels like a wildly different lifestyle from my own. When you have young children, outside of paid working hours it feels hard to even conceive of moments where there aren’t external time pressures of naptimes, meltdowns, getting home to pay the babysitter, and just other people’s needs and agendas to consider, nevermind the constant of domestic responsibilities like running errands, cleaning, and meal prep.
My hangout experience in LA felt like a hard-to-recreate gem of an interlude, with no kids, no work, and no domestic responsibilities. That’s why my next experience, with a highly intentional Shabbaton, was even more revelatory. A Shabbaton is a Jewish-themed retreat usually centered on celebrating Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest from sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday. Observing Shabbat can look like anything from lighting candles and having a low-key family dinner on Friday night to following a long list of rules, including not driving or turning on electricity. While I was raised Jewish, I didn’t grow up celebrating Shabbat or having ever attended a Shabbaton. I didn’t know the hosts well or what to expect, but the invitation insisted that the event was kid-friendly and there was no need to bring anything, so I just showed up with my twins at lunchtime on Saturday, turned off my phone, and decided to see what happened.
The hosts put on this event yearly, and held in their Durham, NC home, there’s no doubt a ton of work and planning goes into making the experience no work for any of the guests. The point of the Shabbaton isn’t to “hang out;” it’s to be in community, it’s to pray, to rest, to sing, and of course, to eat. But the four hours I was there was a completely unique hang-out experience. My twins played in the exceptionally kid-friendly living room, and I got to have several interesting adult conversations while they did it. I’d never met most of the people there before but relished the intellectual conversations and debates that I associate with Jewish spaces, like cross-cultural post-partum practices or the ossification of institutions.
The day was also such a stark reminder of how much of the dominant American society treats small children as if they are a burden while they are in public or even in others’ homes. At this event, I was assured all of the furniture was stain-guarded, and the twins were never glared at or shushed, they were admired and complimented and were told it was fine to touch or play with anything they wanted. All of this helped me unwind from some of the near-constant stress I have navigating the world as their mom. With my phone off, I felt no pull to do anything else, and we continued to hang out as other guests arrived and left, and even as one of the hosts retreated to the bedroom to take a nap, which is a very on-brand Shabbat activity.
The whole experience reminded me of a conversation I had with Elissa Strauss, author of the wonderful forthcoming book When You Care: The Unexpected Magic of Caring for Others at the beginning of the year about the challenges of Sabbath rest when you are a caregiver. In that edition of the newsletter, I was surprised to find myself wondering if organized religion might be the answer to our community care crisis.
Elissa said this of her weekly rituals of Shabbat dinners and attending Saturday services with childcare followed by lunch:
“A big part of why I have become a more observant Jew is because I simply could not figure out how to get a hold of time without it. I'm sure others have figured out how to do this collectively and would love to hear how, but I couldn't. It took something ancient, a little irrational, something that demands compromise and accepting that when you join a community/tradition you aren't going to like every part of it or everything about it or even understand it sometimes, to get to the point where I could experience that elusive thing we think of as rest--of having a moment each week when I let it all go. I couldn't do it without community, and I couldn't do it without this particular community that truly sees me and my children and meets our needs without ever making me feel like an imposition.”
The Shabbaton was probably one of the more fulfilling afternoons I’ve had with my twins since they were born and allowed me to experience my own glimmer of this, "getting a hold of time to rest" while also caregiving.
Following a traditionalist practice like Shabbat feels like a near counter-cultural challenge to the modern demands of family life. To dare to be unreachable, to dare to spend time hanging out, to prioritize rest and spiritual life over playdates and sports practices and an unending list of to-dos felt like a welcome step outside my daily norms.
I am well aware that I bemoan my kids’ screen time, my own phone addiction, hustle culture, unrealistic social expectations on mothers, and the constant busyness of late capitalism without changing all that much about how I live. So, it’s quite humbling when you feel like you are staring down the intractable problems and pressures of modern life alone, only to have community solutions that are thousands of years old staring right back at you.
For this week’s members-only thread, I want to know, what are your favorite hang-out memories? To get in on this fun, become a member of The Double Shift, it starts at $7/mo.
Two pieces of media I’d like to recommend that complement this newsletter quite well:
Read: This new to me article in Wired called Why Your ‘Digital Shabbat’ Will Fail written by a convert to Orthodox Judaism. She makes a really fascinating argument about why secular rules of living don’t carry the same weight as religious ones.
Watch: I recently blew through the four-part Netflix series Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones. Host Dan Buettner, who’s been studying longevity for decades, zeros in on the habits and contexts of certain areas around the world that have high numbers of centenarians. As someone who’s been studying America’s patchwork eldercare system this year, the most fascinating aspect of the series to me was how big a role community and connection play in having a long and fulfilling life. I’ve been gabbing about it to everyone I talk to IRL.
Happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate! May we never give up hope that light will triumph over darkness. ✡️🕎🕊️♥️♥️
Holiday Members-Only Hangout
Making the Holidays Meaningful
Join us on December 13th at 2pm EST
Let’s celebrate making it mostly through 2023 with some relaxed conversation about how to make the holiday season more meaningful. This time of year can be filled with obligations, family drama, and mental overload, so I’d love to take a pause and hear what works for people in creating meaningful time with loved ones and traditions regardless of religious affiliation. We’ll probably meander into other topics, so feel free to bring general thoughts and questions for the community about anything! Members, check your inboxes and cal invites for details!