I finally put myself on the list. My “to do” list. You see, it finally dawned on me that in order for me to take care of everyone and everything on my list, I have to be on the list, too. And not just on it. First.
Yes, this has dawned on me before. But I forgot. If you’re a parent, you know how this works: He needs this. She needs that. And they all need that other thing, right now, you know, because they’ll die without it.
Even the cat piles on, giving you dirty looks for one reason or another. Oh, and if you’re especially blessed, like I am, you also have a big doggie who actually “sighs” his disappointment, like a grumpy old man. Or Eeyore. Yes, if Eeyore could sigh, this is how he would sound.
Anyhow, before you know it, you’ve quieted all of the other hungry beasts and, too tired to care anymore, “bam,” just like that, you fall off the list. And get lost.
Take it from me, losing yourself is worse than digging through that smelly lost and found box at your kid’s school. It’s not pretty. Driving your kids to school in your PJs just because you can is one thing (I do it often), but being so preoccupied with wrangling everyone out the door that you realize, when you glance into the rear-view mirror before backing out of the driveway, that you didn’t even stop to brush your own hair, is pitiful. I once resorted to using the one in the car. You know, the one that came with my daughter’s old American Girl doll. It did the job, and I pulled it off with a dramatic flair that made my kids laugh, but let’s face it, ladies, that’s hitting bottom.
No wonder I’ve felt the urge, lately, to live in a Yurt. Alone. Ha ha, where I can “find myself” again. It’s so text-book, for Pete’s sake, but that’s because I’m not the only one who feels this way. I often hear the same thing from other moms. We can’t blame anyone else when we fall off our own lists, though – if we were ever on them to begin with.
I know this is tougher when little kids are in the mix, but things won’t change unless we make them.
As for me, that means making appointments with me. I began my opening up a new document on my computer – to trick myself into taking myself as seriously as my other work, I suppose, and brainstormed a list of things that make me feel good and happy. Take my weekly yoga class, for example. If someone asks if I’m free at that time (to work, to bake cookies, to volunteer, etc.) the answer, now, is “no.” As a matter of fact, I even have “yoga” written on my calendar. It’s absurd, the number of times I’ve needed to schedule something, not seen anything in that spot and filled it, realizing later that I’ve essentially put myself last. What? Time for myself is negotiable? Um, no. Not anymore. I’m on the list.
I’ve also learned that I feel better, calmer and more grounded when I make an appointment with myself to meditate every day, right after I get out of bed in the morning and before any other pressing concerns commence with their pressing. It’s simple, really, so simple that I had a hard time believing it would really make any difference, until tried it for a week. I just sit still, close my eyes, and breathe. Five, 10 minutes. Longer, if I feel like it. Sounds and thoughts are noticed and drift by as I gently and mindfully return my focus to my breath (when I often discover I’ve been holding it).
After breakfast, while the kids get ready for school, I sit and play the piano, just because I enjoy it. If I don’t do it then, other things on the list seem to crowd it out. Plus, there’s the added benefit of Holly being drawn to the piano bench, too, which keeps her practiced – and besides, since she often notices when I’ve missed a note, we get to begin our days not only with music, but a little silliness, too. I know, inherent here is something I’m also doing for her, but, if I’m honest, this particular kind of overlap makes me happy, too. (That doesn’t work for every mom, and that’s OK.)
Once I’ve taken care of me, I turn my attention to whatever else is on that “other” list – including work. This means I now resist the temptation to check email and Facebook first thing in the morning before I even get out of bed – or after I head to bed, when I’m already tired, thus even more susceptible to getting sucked into a rabbit hole of nonsense on the Internet. Better that I read a book until I can’t keep my eyes open, instead. (By the way, by “book”’ I mean a real one – not one that lives in a device that beeps or coos or vibrates with urgency whenever someone else wants my attention. No means no! Where have I heard that before?)
The point is, others won’t take our limits seriously unless we do. Sure, we may lose something when we decide we cannot be all things to all people at all times – and establish a few boundaries. But what we gain, ourselves, cannot be replaced.
• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.