The other morning a few friends mentioned they had to go the post office. At this time of year. On purpose.
Realizing I also needed to mail a wee little package as well, I suggested we all grab a coffee and stand in line together. That morning turned out to be one of the highlights of my holiday season so far. We swapped stories of dreaded post office pasts at Christmastime (the one that took the cake was my friend M, who stood in line for an hour and a half with a newborn, a two year old, and a four year old. And they were hungry. And thirsty. And it was in a busy city center). We also had time to talk about our season, our children, our travels. It felt as joyful as if we were at a holiday party with a glass of wine wearing shimmering dresses, but without the hassle of heals and the fuss of overdoing our hair.
So how can we use the time standing in line for our greater good? How can we better use and manage our energy in a crowded space? We can do more online shopping and direct shipping. We can avoid going shopping at peak times. We can watch each others' children so we have time to shop alone. But this is not always feasible.
So I've worked on a few strategies to make line-standing not a means to an end, but a part of my overall holiday experience.
When alone in line, I do two things: (1) manage my expectations; and (2) ground my energy.
To begin with, we can expect that there will be lines, that we will have to wait, that temporary staff have been hired to help that may not be well trained, and that other shoppers may be grouchy, hungry, or stressed. Just like knowing our travel time to a destination, we can adjust our errands for "line time."
Next, we can ground our energy. My favorite way to do this is just to imagine myself as a tree with roots going deep in to the ground. This feels securing and stabilizing. When grounded, we are less likely to feel "blown around" by the noise, stress, and sighing going on around us.
The beauty of this is while it is for self-preservation, it also is an act of love to the others around you. Recently I wanted to go to the mall (on purpose!) to get my niece something from "THE" teenage girl cool store. It happens to be a yoga store so I expected a lot of calm in there. However everyone in there from the sales-clerks, to the shoppers, to the little children in strollers was giving off stress energy. I chose my items and went to stand in the line behind two other shoppers. I had anticipated waiting in line, and grounded my energy. Throughout the next ten minutes the clerk frantically would catch my eye and say "SORRY! Thanks for waiting!" and I would smile and say, "it's okay." The fifth time she looked right at me and said, "you are SO calm." Fighting the urge to laugh that I, who gets to yoga maybe once a week at best, was epitomizing the true effects of what the store was trying to sell, smiled and responded quietly, "in this season I choose to shine my light and be the peace in the world." Everyone within earshot paused, the energy lightened, and I felt so much love in my heart for all of us in that moment.
But what about if we need to bring the kids along!? Well listen, I don't know how my friend M could have done much better with her three wee ones on that dreaded day of Christmas past, but here is what I have found to work: (1) make the line part of the experience, (2) bring stuff for them to do, and (3) don't try to do too many errands in a row.
First, we can manage our expectations and prepare for the line as if it were a part of the experience. If we get it in our head beforehand that we will be standing in a small area, not able to leave to use the potty, get a drink, get our energy out, or wash our hands if our kids touch something weird, it helps us plan ahead. Think of it as a strange opportunity for bonding. When else do we get 10-60 minutes of undivided attention with our kids?
Second, we can bring stuff to do. I found a little kit once that has been a life-saver for our family. In the small bag that is the size of my palm are a few trinkets and we play memory games with them, or make up a stories with them. We can also be sure to ask our kids to use the restroom and bring a snack for younger children. If we turn this into an opportunity for play, this makes the time feel less wasted and stress-full, and more like quality time with the kids.
Third, we can try not to do too many errands in a row. I say try, because it's not always possible. But if we limit the number of stores we go to, and the number of days we go shopping, this makes the first two feel more manageable too!
Now these may not all work for you, or work all of the time, but I hope to help you feel better about the opportunity that lines give us for connecting with friends, practicing grounding, and sharing time with kids.
Wishing you peace this season!