Forget Running On Empty

Refueling in Yosemite Valley

Refueling in Yosemite Valley

The past few weeks have been almost non-stop fun. Since the first weekend of October, I have resembled more of a middle-class jet setter than the middle-class stay at home mama I really am. And it has been wonderful. I’ve hit the town, the road and the hay. And enjoyed the company of my husband, family and girlfriends. While I may be a bit tired (and neck-deep in laundry), in all the ways that matter, I feel like a million bucks.

The chance to shift focus and spend time in the things that give us rest is so refreshing. And while it’s a luxury to take a break, it’s in the breaks that we refuel and find energy for the long haul. Without them, we eventually find ourselves running on empty. And take it from me, I know a lot about running on empty.

My first car was a conversion van. The outside was silver which maroon striping, the inside was light grey with wood paneling. There was no stereo and the windshield wipers only worked if you slammed the driver’s side door really hard. My pose and I referred to it as the “House of Stewart”, since that is what was written on the cover of the spare tire that hung on the rear. It was a little bit funky, but also 100% awesome.

First off, it was huge and fit the entire gang, no problem. Everyday I would pick Jessica up for school. One day a woman approached my window, with her elementary aged child in tow, and asked, “Is this the bus to school?”.

Second, it had plenty of pep, which proved to be tons of fun. One of my best friends had a Tercel and she used to put it in neutral and steer while I would drive behind her. To be clear, the Tercel’s (a.k.a. Hornet) ignition was in the off position and the House of Stewart was literally pushing it around town. It was totally unnecessary, likely dangerous, but super hilarious.

Also, the sliding door was perfect for imitating Jackass-like tricks. It was not uncommon to find the House of Stewart cruising at 15 miles per hour with freshman aged boys jumping from the car and rolling onto the perfectly groomed greenbelts of Irvine. I was the cool older sister who facilitated nonsense like that at my brother’s request.

Additionally, there was a ladder on the back allowing for roof access, which made nude, rooftop sunbathing a no-brainer. The windows were decked out with venetian mini blinds and velour drapes, allowing for wardrobe changes on the go. And my friends and I slept in the pull out bed more often than was necessary. I have only the fondest of memories for the House of Stewart.

The House of Stewart also had two gas tanks and a manual switch under the dashboard that would allow the driver (in this case a 16 year old) to reach under the dash (while driving!!) to kick over to the other tank. It also had a faulty gas gauge. But, that’s no problem because if one tank runs out, you just switch it over to the other tank. Except that, I would rarely get gas and often switch from an empty tank over to another empty tank. This was something I did with such regularity that I kept an empty gas can in the trunk because it wasn’t if, but rather when.

I would count on running out of gas. The risk and adventure and DRAMA of running on empty (and running out of gas) was fun. The consequences were minor and the adventure of getting the ole House of Stewart back up and going was entertaining. Each time it happened, it was like, OH NO! Mayday! I guess we have to get gas. Let’s see… where’s the nearest station?

(Aside: If any of my kids ever pull this shit, I will take the car keys away faster than they can say, “But MOM!!”)

As a sixteen year old, the whole “running on empty” thing was fun, maybe even kind of cute, in a weird, oh-so-adventurous sort of way. However, as a mother/wife/responsible human, I could never pull that sort of thing off nowadays. The words irresponsible and jackass come to mind. Right? Right!

When there’s more at stake than being on time to 10th grade english (which I didn’t care about much anyways), it’s much more constructive to avoid running out of gas. Yet, many of us struggle to find the balance between responsibility and rejuvenation. We run from here to there and rarely stop to fuel up – because it takes intention and planning. It’s not always easy or convenient, so we wait for the inevitable, an empty tank.

We may not be sitting on the curb waiting for our parents to come bail us out, but we’re stuck all the same. It manifests itself differently for all of us – sickness, depression, anxiety, addiction or straight up crash-and-burn behavior. And, it doesn’t just affect us. No. Our people (friends, children, partners, co-workers) often pay the price too.

We need a gas gage. Something that reminds us to stop & fill up. We’re adults and it’s our responsibility to keep tabs on our fuel. The reality is, there are times when we will be running on low fuel and not have the wherewithal to fill up. It’s life. But, at the very least we should be aware enough to know if we’re in such a situation so we can manage it’s stressful nature.

My gas gage exists in my head and I guess it’s more alarm than gage. When I notice myself repeating a series of behaviors or cycling in a pattern of thoughts, it’s triggered. Something is off. Seek fuel! It’s an alarm that I’ve developed (via trial and error) over the course of a decade. It comes in very handy, but is only effective if I respond.

When I feel the trigger my first reaction is to pause and take inventory of my whole self – mind, body, soul. Often this is an internal process, but I almost always bounce my findings off Isaac or a friend. As immediate as possible, I make adjustments and find ways to get myself into balance once more. As I have gotten more and more in tune with my tank and fuel level, life has been more consistent and less dramatic. Both very good things.

It doesn’t always have to look like a week of camping in the Sierra’s, although that is pretty darn ideal. I fuel up by spending time with people I love and enjoy and/or doing the things that give me energy (being outdoors, exercising, laughing, exploring, beaching, etc). In many cases, the activity is not as relevant as the simple break from the daily grind.

So, I am thankful for the last few weeks. In my time away, I found perspective, energy and joy for the daily life I live.

How do you refuel? And, have you ever run out of gas (literally)? Do tell!!

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  • Reply
    Jen Varela
    10/22/2014 at 4:04 pm

    Love your perspective and how you express it! Still wishing I had a second tank! Thumbs up!

    • Reply
      10/23/2014 at 7:23 am

      Seriously, a second tank is just what I need! Thanks for the kind words.

  • Reply
    10/23/2014 at 9:10 am

    I love this! Thanks for reminding me how important it is to stay full and that its our job to keep an eye on our gas gauge and make changes to fuel up as needed. I am a work in progress in this area!

    • Reply
      10/23/2014 at 2:34 pm

      Aren’t we all? I felt like I waited a bit too long most of the times before actually responding to my little alarm/gauge. xox

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