My perfectionist streak means that I often try to be everything to everyone. I am Super Mom. The one who always volunteers to bring snacks for soccer practice. And bakes her own bread, muffins, and pie every weekend. And makes applesauce from scratch. From apples that she picked herself. And tomato sauce from the tomatoes in her garden. Who cooks dinner and packs homemade school lunches every night. Who is an awesome attorney and union leader every day. Who reaches out to friends who are sick. Who watches the neighbors’ dog when they are away. Who makes elaborate meals for her significant other and friends. Who packs every weekend with writing and museum trips and hikes and concerts and soccer and cooking and entertaining.
I always have a lot of balls in the air. Because that’s what happens when you are a working, single mom. But then…I add extra complexity and throw new balls up. Totally unnecessary ones. Until I can’t manage to do anything well (or, more importantly, calmly and happily). I’m the “super” mom who has to remake scrambled eggs on a school morning because the first batch was over-cooked. Because, in addition to making eggs, I was also baking bread and unloading the dishwasher and packing my daughter’s backpack and my tote and drinking my luke-warm coffee and putting on mascara and listening to Violet tell a “funny joke” (I know you guys, I know, I am exhausted just writing this).
I also adjust everyone else’s oxygen mask first. Even sometimes right after I tell a close friend that she needs to adjust her own mask first because “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Oh yeah. I’m that girl. The one who tells her best friends to “do their best” and “take care of themselves” when I cannot follow this simple advice. I just can’t.
And that’s a normal week. These past few weeks, I have been a complete mess. I lost a childhood friend unexpectedly. She was healthy. And young – 43. We had been friends since junior high. It hit hard. Really hard.
Also, I’m a survivor of sexual assault. As a survivor, I was amazed at the bravery of Dr. Ford. I was proud of so many of my friends for standing up and telling their own “me too” stories. For fighting the good fight. But me? I was a mess. I was unable to stay on social media for more than a few minutes, to listen to the radio or watch the news at all, to talk about things. To breathe.
And I couldn’t get out of my own way. I had four hearings and a huge meeting at work. I had my normal weekly efforts to try to keep my house afloat. I had to be a good mom, including all the usual bits – cooking, cleaning, homework, soccer – and taking my daughter to literacy night at her school. I was also trying to be there for my significant other who was having his own rough time of it. And my friends who were having theirs.
And then I got sick. And my daughter soon followed. And I still took her to soccer and to see the faerie houses at the Florence Griswold Museum (very cool exhibit at a very cool museum by the way). And I ended up sitting on my kitchen floor crying in front of the oven while making pizza. While my partner stood by trying to help. I nearly collapsed. Not like a soufflé. More like the last gasp of a dying star. I nearly exploded.
Everything has been so… hard.
It got me thinking. How can I take better care of myself? I conceived of a new plan: Extreme Self Care. I first needed to iron out what self care means to me. And then do it. Actually do it. Because otherwise I am going to break. To break. So… what exactly is Extreme Self Care?
This one is easy. Right? Some of the duties in my life are necessary and constant (work, feeding the girl and driving her to and from school, paying the bills, keeping the house relatively clean). Some are self-imposed. Hell, lots of the things in my life are self-imposed. And sometimes the self-imposed things just need to go. Or at least get heavily modified according to my capacity. It’s okay to give my daughter cereal and yogurt for breakfast instead of making her eggs. It’s okay to order pizza. It’s okay to sit down on the couch. Right?
A few weeks ago, I had planned to invite my significant other over for a fancy Friday night meal with me and my daughter. I realized at about 10:00 am sitting at my desk at work that this was a terrible idea. I was stressing about six unfinished projects on my desk, and then adding the worry about picking my daughter up from school early and getting a few last minute things from the store and timing everything perfectly so that dinner would be ready at a reasonable hour. I had over-committed that weekend to bringing soccer snacks, taking my daughter to her best friend’s birthday party, apple-picking, baking pies, and going to the Renaissance Faire. I also needed to clean the house and do some of my never-ending yard work.
I decided to simplify and instead do a Friday night dance party. We got Thai takeout, I put Florence and the Machine on the stereo in the living room. My five year old danced. I danced. I also finished laundry. We watched some Great British Baking Show. Did I feel bad about cancelling dinner? You bet. But was my choice the right one? Yep. I must simplify. I need to chill out more. Seriously. And dance.
2. Get organized
This may not sound like self care to some of you. Actually, this may be something unique to me. Making “to-do” lists and calendars and knowing what goes where and when makes me almost ethereally happy. There is something so comforting about having lists that I can check off. I feel better when I have a game plan and it’s on my calendar and colorcoded. But this summer, I slacked off a bit with my planning both at work and at home and I have felt a little “off” for weeks. I need to make more lists. Even if I don’t accomplish everything on them. I need to get and stay better organized. I guess this list is a good first step. A great one actually. Extreme.
3. Enjoy that peanut butter cup
When it comes to food, I put myself last. I definitely have a problem with making dinner for Violet and then eating hummus and cheese standing up at the kitchen island. Or drinking mostly cold coffee or tea. I have so much to get organized in the mornings and evenings. I have to pack lunches, cook dinner, clean the kitchen, endless dishes, etc. I end up unwrapping a miniature peanut butter cup (my Halloween weakness) and then eating it before I even taste it. Like, the wrapper is in my hand but I really don’t remember eating it. At all. There is no joy in it.
I need to stop, sit down (this one is huge), and give myself at least 30 minutes to enjoy, savor even, the meals in my life. I buy expensive locally roasted coffee beans and fancy tea from a company in France and the good dark chocolate and cheese from the cheese counter. I make seriously good food. I am going to actually sit down and actually enjoy it. I am. Really. Slowly and mindfully. I may even eat dinner at the dining room table. Revolutionary. Extreme.
4. Take a long shower
This one is easy. Showers are one of my favorite times of day. As an introverted person, they give me a break from my daughter and the cats and the folks on social media and my friends texting. However, I need to not limit my showers to 3.5 minutes. I need to give myself time to enjoy some hot water and silence. Without using that time to think about everything I have to do when I’m done in the shower. I need to take some long showers. Maybe even a bath with a book. Extreme, I know.
5. Have tea parties
I buy fancy tea (see above). Tons of it. Now that it is cooler, I need to engage in the ritual of making and drinking tea. By myself. With my daughter. With friends. With my significant other. Because tea parties are fun. They give you a chance to connect with someone one-on-one. Or with yourself. And it’s a time set aside where you really can’t do anything else.
I need to have more tea parties. Lots of them. Maybe with scones. Ginger pumpkin scones with coffee icing. Extreme tea parties call for pumpkin spice. And hats. Extreme hats.
6. Write poetry and make art
In addition to the mom gig and the lawyer gig, I’m also a poet. I need to commit time every week to writing poetry. It’s a great meditation for me. It keeps me grounded. Helps me breathe. It gives me time to fully immerse in an activity without any distractions. You really cannot do anything else while you are writing a poem. I also need to commit time to editing my work and submitting it to journals. Because it makes me happy to send my work into the Universe.
Much like writing poetry, drawing and painting is a great centering activity for me. It requires my complete attention. And I love doing it. And I am good at it. The best thing about making art is that I can do it with my daughter. It’s something that I can set up on the dining room table or living room rug. It’s time to both connect with her and to connect with myself. And it’s time that is pure joy. Extreme joy.
Exercise also brings me joy. Before my daughter’s school year started, I had a great exercise schedule worked out. Now, work, school, running my house, my dating life, even sleep have all been taking precedence. I need to take this back. I do not feel myself when I don’t have a chance to run or hike or do yoga or lift every week. I need to find a better balance. To exercise with my significant other. To exercise with my daughter. To work out in the morning for 20 minutes instead of hitting snooze a few extra times. To take some time off from my life to go to my favorite yoga class with my best friend or to hike while the weather is still perfect for it.
This is not a huge list. Not unmanageable. I’ll be honest – it’s not all that extreme. But I have to do it. I HAVE to. Because my health and happiness depends on it. And I can’t be a good mom without that. Or a good partner or a good friend. Or heck, a good friend to myself. And if I can’t do them all, I can just pick one, right? I vote for long showers. Or tea parties.
So, I am giving y’all an assignment. What’s your version of extreme self care? How are you good to yourself? What keeps you sane? Really think about it. Make a list. Then… go do it! You can’t pour from an empty cup you know.