Every day I vacuum the hard floors downstairs. With two Big Personality kids (I cite the photo displayed as evidence), multiple pets, and the way traffic flows here, it's necessary.
Plus, I like vacuuming. I call it my Zen time. The white noise soothes me and focuses part of my brain---the anxiety 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 hustle and hide until I put the vacuum away. In fact, the mere mention of cleaning causes my entire family to scatter like dandelions.
Now you know my diabolical plan for alone time.
One morning, I was vacuuming along and decided to do a bit upstairs as well. I chose the kids' playroom. As I began, I remembered I'd been meaning to vacuum my own room, especially over by the dog bed (it's allergy season so best to keep things as dust, dirt and pet dander free as possible, especially where I sleep). My immediate next thought was, "Yeah, but there's no time and really, yeah, ewwww, the kids' room has to be done, it's so gross...what is that green stuff gooed on the carpet, anyway?"
Then a strange little voice in my head whispered, "Yes, but what about you?"
Yes, what about me?
I know the airlines always say put your oxygen mask on first before putting it on your child but seriously...who among you is sure that's what you'd do?
Me? Not so much.
I have a habit 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."
However, the concept that it is my obligation to sacrifice myself on the altar of mommyhood is well ingrained in my brain---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.
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?
What else in life, besides cleaning, reflects this priority list? Suffice it to say, upon reflection, this is pretty SOP.
So I steal time. For example, I sneak in TiVo'd shows or blog while the kids rest, or stay up too late doing Something For Me and cheat myself of sleep. I transform wants into needs, justify things as "must dos" in order to accept 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 visit my doctor for a checkup but can't find the time!" and "What I wouldn't do for one day..."
When we do something fun 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, too often we're wondering what we'll return home to find, and worrying about what we left.
Whichever road we take, we feel the other behind us, and it frequently invokes some guilt.
The irony is, inside I still feel self-centered. I still get irritated or frustrated when I scheduled time to accomplish something for me and it gets bumped. This "me last" concept isn't natural...it simply is how I 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. Once in a while, though, I need to be just Julie: unencumbered, not flush with the guilt of choosing a want over a need, myself over my kids, or something else I feel I ought to be doing instead.
And I'd rather 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 to some degree. 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.
Still, life needs that balance, and five plus years and two kids into the job, I'm still trying to find my footing.
I talk the talk. But if I'm honest?
Still not walking the walk.
But I am vacuuming. I vacuum, therefore I think. I think, therefore I try. I try to keep up with my "me activities." I work on caring for myself, and I endeavor to communicate my needs and ask when I need help. I do my best to not feel guilty.
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.
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.
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copyright 2007 Julie Pippert