Every day I have a method, a routine, to my housecleaning: get the downstairs into good shape and hope I have time for a little tidy up for the upstairs.
I vacuum the hard floors downstairs every day. With two kids, multiple pets, and the way traffic flows here, it's necessary.
Plus, I say I like vacuuming. I call it my Zen time. The white noise soothes me and focuses part of my brain---the anxiety part I think, the part that requires some level of tune-out-able noise all the time---so the rest of it can think, peacefully.
The noise isn't so soothing to the rest of the family: children and pets scatter and hide until I put the vacuum away. Now you know my diabolical plan for alone time.
On one morning, I was humming along, doing my usual routine---cleaning the downstairs bathroom as it happens---when it struck me: I need to clean my own bathroom. My immediate next thought was, "Oh but the guest bath, the one guests see, is so much more important. And wow, the kids' bath has to be next, it's a mess."
Then some strange little voice in my head whispered, "Yes but...what about you?"
Yes, what about me?
I know the airlines always say put your own mask on first before putting it on your child but seriously...who among you is sure that's what you'd do, and what percentage chance are you sure that you actually would? In the melee, in the confusion...would you really see to yourself, first? Are you able to care for yourself while your child is in distress of some sort?
Me? Not so much.
I have a habit, you see, of saying, "Yes, yes, I'll get to fun/self-care/etc. as soon as I accomplish...(whatever it is that needs doing to hold back the chaos tide)."
Clearly "care for self first" is not very well ingrained into my brain. I also clearly don't comprehend the "you can't care for others very well unless you care for yourself first" concept. At least, I don't accept it as "okay."
Thus, as I cleaned---cleaned for the public and the family---I realized, this is what I do: others and family first, me last, if there's any time left over, and really, is there ever?
I sat back on my heels and thought. What else in life, besides cleaning, reflects this priority list?
Okay, house renovations. How's the priority list? Living room first, followed by dining room (the room in which we entertain), kitchen next (currently), and then we plan on moving upstairs to the girl's rooms, and maybe trying to add on to the outdoor patio simultaneously. The master bedroom? Somewhere near the bottom of the list, after "add cabinetry to utility room."
This week's schedule: outside obligations first, followed by family obligations, and lastly, personal obligations.
The last time I got a haircut was...five months ago? Last doctor appointment for me...ummm, also five months ago? How overdue am I at the dentist? The women's health professional aka the OB/GYN? I last indulged myself in a treat like a massage errrr over a year ago, and that was a gift certificate...my boss scheduled a time for me instead of handing over the certificate.
So I steal time. For example, I sneak in TiVo'd shows while the kids rest, or stay up too late doing Something For Me and cheating myself of sleep. I lie to the kids and say I have a meeting and skulk out to meet friends for coffee. I make wants into needs, feel compelled to justify things as "must dos" in order to justify not doing in that same time slot the things I consider "should dos."
I'm sure this is typical. I have many friends and we all say things like, "My hair's a mess...hasn't seen scissors in six months!" and "I keep meaning to clean out my closet but can't find the time!" and "What I wouldn't do for one day..."
We all use words like "steal" and "skulk" and "lie" when referring to doing something for ourselves. We laugh, often defiantly, sometimes maniacally, and are frequently unrepentent, "I deserve this time away!" we tell one another defensively. We each nod to the other and say, "You go girl!"
Inside, though, we're wondering what we'll return home to find, and worrying about what we left, and maybe, just maybe, thinking, "Someone somewhere out there is actually judging me for this."
And we know that's true, because we hear it. In our heads, in our lives, we hear it, the little judgmental comment said to you, about you or another, but that stuck with you, nevertheless.
A good mother doesn't need to get away, a good mother enjoys herself while she is away, a good mother doesn't enjoy herself while she is away. This is it. Stiff upper lip. There's no whining in mommyhood. Oh go on sweetie we understand.
Whichever road we take, we can feel the other behind us, and it invokes some guilt.
I work, I volunteer, I write in a blog...because I need more. But...I do none of these things with a purely glad heart. I do them also with guilt and defiance. In fact, sometimes? I do them just to test myself. I force myself, for many reasons, some of which defy clear explanation, really. I do them to train my family. "Look, you must learn to be patient and wait until I can make time..." and "You must learn to do for yourself...sometimes I can't be here."
It goes back to Parenting as if I might get hit by a bus tomorrow.
But more than that, it cries of desperation, "Take notice, my family...my children, my husband! I'm a person! A person with wants and needs! Look at me! See ME! I have value! I am more than the chief cook, bottlewasher, and all around girl cinderella."
I think this desperate sense of self loss might have begun when Patience first started a mother's day out/school program, and I morphed from Julie---a person people paused to get to know, for myself, and learned my name because I was the the relevant person---to Patience's Mom.
Still, sometimes I'd like to be just Julie, unencumbered, not choosing a want over a need and flush with the guilt of it, the guilt of choosing me over kids or another thing I feel I ought to be doing instead. And I'd like to not get the Big Mom Guilt Trip from my beloveds just because I do choose me for an hour here or there.
I know this is unreasonable. I'm not even sure that when the kids are 40 they will be able to accept me as a person. I watch adults cringe at totally normal grown-up activities their parents engage in after the nest is empty. We may grow up, we may understand, but at the end of the day...they're still the parents, and we're still the children. It's a lifetime role, is parent. That means a degree of self-sacrifice for the rest of my life.
I'm okay with that.
The irony is, inside I still feel like the same self-centered person I always thought of myself as. Inside I still get irritated or frustrated when I have scheduled time to accomplish something for me and it gets bumped. This "me last" concept isn't natural...it simply is how I apparently think I must triage. And I don't do it very gracefully.
I'm happy to do mom and wife, friend and daughter, sister and relative. But my, oh my oh my oh my do I ever need to just be Julie. Just...sometimes.
Unfortunately and semi-inexplicably, it's pretty fixed into my head that it is my obligation to sacrifice myself on the altar of mommy-and-wifehood. It's pretty fixed, no matter how often I espouse the virtue of balance...no matter how often I encourage myself and other moms to put the oxygen mask on yourself first...no matter how often I try to talk the talk.
Still not walking the walk.
But I am vacuuming. I vacuum, therefore I think. I think, therefore I am. And someday, I'll figure this out, just in time, I'm sure, to pack the last box for the last kid and wave her tearfully,but proudly and happily, on her way to her own independent life.
Mary tagged me for the real moms meme. I thought I was going to escape notice if I kept wearing camouflage and skulking back by the plants, but I ought to have known if anyone would flush me out it would be Mary. :) I have enjoyed all of the "real moms..." meme answers I've seen, but each time I read one I thought, great scott, what would I say, what could I say? What the heck is a real mom? Can I be as funny as...? Show great photos like...? Be as insightful and honest as...? This late in the game, what can be left?
So here's my little tidbit:
Real moms put themselves last sometimes (often) out of necessity, but it doesn't mean they feel last, or cool about being last.
And, real moms sometimes (often) vacuum as escapism.
copyright 2007 Julie Pippert