As I was getting ready this morning my to-do list raced through my head and before I could even apply deodorant was starting to give me sweaty pits. “OK, Josh is leaving for one last wedding. I have a freelance assignment I need to power through so I don’t get too nervous about being late with it. But the house desperately needs to be vacuumed and the bathrooms cleaned. I have two towel rings, a shelf, and a curtain that need to be hung. The play area is a mess. So is the living room. What am I making for dinner? And, holy heck, my back still hurts from whatever I did to it on Monday,” I dictated to myself. This is 7am.
I need more of this in my life.
I tend to expect an awful lot of myself. I expect my house to be clean, my books to get read, my craft projects to get finished. I expect to parent effectively and discreetly. I expect myself to be an awesome friend at all times and a consummate hostess. I expect myself to be a loving and attentive wife. I expect to blog, so well and thoughtfully that I’ll become an Internet sensation. It’s quite the list of responsibilities to live up to.
Intellectually, I fully realize that I’m being completely ridiculous. But the impulse to expect things of myself is part of who I am. I’m sure that it’s part of the reason that my books are alphabetized by author (as well as my CDs and DVDs), why my recipes are separated by dividers in a binder, and why I got really good grades in school. On the flip side, it’s also why I have anxiety about meeting expectations and nervousness about how I come across to new people that I meet. This isn’t a part of my personality that I’ll ever do away with, and it’s not one that I would want to do away with. It’s a really big part of who I am.
That doesn’t mean that I have to let it rule me. I get to choose how much I boss myself around and how much I am gentle with myself.
So, thankfully, and after many years of gentle influence from my much more laid back husband, I took a deep breath this morning and decided to be gentle to myself today. I told my bossy self to prioritize. The only things on that list that has to happen today is working on my freelance and making dinner. I’m already ahead on my freelance and H is in school today, giving me some extra time to work, plus the evening. And there are lots of leftovers in the fridge for a stress-free, girls only dinner. What was I worried about?
As I grow older, I’m glad to see that I’m actually growing as a person as well. Another example: Last week I had a manic attack of kitchen productivity and decided to turn our leftover chicken into soup the same day I made a big batch of beef stew to freeze. This was a terrible idea. It meant that I was hot and cranky all afternoon on my feet in the kitchen and that I had to spend most of that time telling H things like, “Not right now, sweetie. Honey, Mommy’s cooking. In a little bit, ok? Maybe when Dad gets home.” At the time it felt vitally necessary to get all this done. Once H was in bed and I had collapsed on the sofa completely exhausted, I felt the guilt of having virtually ignored my beautiful toddler all afternoon. She only wanted to spend time with me, and I had spent a whole afternoon telling her she wasn’t as important as some food I was cooking.
How many of us have done this? Of course, there are absolutely times when I need to perform grown up tasks, and it’s absolutely good for her to learn how to play imaginatively by herself. But those two truths should never mean that I have to miss out on sharing this special time with her. I want her to tell me about how she’s going to the ball with Cinderella and that Belle and Aurora are visiting while she twirls around in her purple princess dress. I want her to listen to my heart and check my blood pressure with her doctor kit, staring very seriously into my eyes. I want to help her build crazy towers with blocks that she knocks over with glee. I want her to know that I’m there for her and that I’m a good person to talk to.
I decided not to spend the night castigating myself as a failure of a mother. I forgave myself and found a solution. The next day we had breakfast for dinner. It was a quick fix I didn’t have to start until after Dad got home for work, which meant I was able to devote myself to being present with H for a few hours before hand.
I don’t know where this ability to be gentle with myself is coming from, but I’m glad it’s here. (I strongly suspect that Josh actually being here and not flying has something to do with it.) It’s certainly an ability I plan to cultivate. I know that I’ll never get to a slacker place where I just don’t do anything. I will always have plans and lists. I will always want to execute everything right now. But I have a new tool to give myself perspective. And a little perspective, a little gentle love for myself, can go a long way toward creating a life that is both livable and productive.