This is the second post in a series, The Other Side of Being Sick, chronicling my path to learning how to be well once again. If you missed the first post, Resolve to Reconnect, you can read it here.
“Where are you going?” I would ask my mother every time she tore out of our driveway behind the wheel of the family station wagon.
After a breathless sigh, she could barely whisper out, “Going to the store.”
“Can I come?” My tiny voice would squeak.
Without fail, my mother’s face would fall flat after quietly resigning herself to the fact that her child had yet again ruined another attempt at getting some much needed me time. Then, she’d unlock the car door, offer up a quick “get in” and off we’d go. Me, the exuberantly happy child. And she, the overburdened mother of six who certainly understood why some animals ate their young.
Of course, as a child, I thought of myself as helping. Now that I’m a mother I realize what a disgraceful cockblock I was. If I could go back in time I’d take my little freckle faced self aside and say, “Listen, kid, go watch some TV and let your mom have 15 minutes of peace in the frozen foods aisle. And, for the love of all things holy, don’t cut your own bangs! It’s a trap!”
And now, every time I’m strolling through the grocery store and pass a jug of Ernest and Julio Gallo wine, I shoot a peace sign to the heavens. “Apple didn’t fall far from the tree, mom. This is my vacation time too.”
It didn’t used to be this way. I didn’t always consider comparing sheets per roll on packages of toilet paper as ‘me’ time. I had actual hobbies at one point in my life. My husband and I even worked out a system where each of us got one day out of the weekend all to ourselves to do whatever we wanted. You may have imagined that my day typically involved collecting chip crumbs on my shirt as I watched countless hours of trash TV. I’m not going to say you’re right, but I’m definitely not going to say you’re wrong.
But, then came my tumor.
If you’ve never had a serious illness, I can assuredly tell you they are the ‘small child ruining their mother’s me time at the grocery store’ of life, cockblocking every moment with an unapologetic Cheshire grin. And like tiny ‘helpful’ children, they also make you want to drink wine by the jug.
I missed out on more than just ‘me’ time in the years I was sick. I became a maybe in all my loved ones’ lives. ‘We’ll see’ was a standard response to every invitation and life event. We’ll see if I’m going to be too nauseous or too tired or too achy. We’ll see if I don’t have an MRI or a doctor’s appointment. We’ll see if there’s any money left. We’ll see if the tumor’s back.
And I watched everyone scurry around my life to pick up the slack when I could do nothing more than rest. Everyone sacrificed for me. Everyone was patient and gave more than they had for me. For years it was all about me.
Like my mother, I was more used to being the one to sacrifice, to give up my tiny nugget of me time to accommodate anyone else’s happiness. Because somehow that felt like the right thing to do. As if it were my job.
When I was finally able to end chemo and the fog slowly started to lift, I took on more and more and more of all those things I’d had done for me. The pendulum swung so far June Cleaver would think less of herself. And soon enough, everything was all about them.
I don’t blame anyone involved. Those around me needed a break. My husband’s time had been swallowed whole by work and care for the kids and for me. My children had had an on and off mom for half a decade. And I needed to feel like myself again, like I was part of this machine, even if sometimes I was just a pot scrubbing cog.
Before I knew it, I was looking for reasons to run to the store to pick up a few things, and maybe walk a little slowly down the frozen food aisle just to find some way to be alone. That’s when I realized I’d gone from a child robbing my mom of her time to a grownup robbing myself of my own.
It’s nice to be well enough to contribute so much, but between dogs and dishes and schoolwork, cleaning, laundry, and commitments it’s become too much. And not enough. Not enough of feeling fed, relaxed, creative, quiet. Man, do I miss quiet.
So the pendulum swings again. I have to bid a fond farewell to June and the Beav. I have to give some of this time solely to me.
And I don’t really know you all that well, but I’m inclined to think you do too. You do a lot and think it’s never enough. You’ve been told to cherish every second of every day with those kids of yours. The dog needs walking. The cat needs attention. The dishes in the sink might be starting to attract flies and nobody in the whole damn house has one clean pair of underwear.
Do it anyway, give yourself some time just to yourself, only to you. And do whatever strikes your fancy. Read a book. Take a walk. Sneak a candy bar into the closet and shoot your family the bird through a closed door. Tell your child you have to get groceries on your own this time. Go on and do it. And don’t you dare apologize to anyone for it.
We live in a society of do, do, do! Go, go, go! And, while I’ve never been on my death bed, I’ve come close waking up from a surgery and not being able to walk. It is the things you don’t do that you regret in the end. And doing a little bit of nothing for the sake of your sanity is doing something. In the end you’ll regret it if you don’t do some of that nothing and give yourself some time.
I’ve started slow, coffee with friends on a Sunday morning here and there. Taking time to write rather than asking for it. And when all else fails, a slow walk past the frozen veggies with no kid behind me will have to do. But I take it, when I remind myself that it matters, that I’m important enough.
And you, yeah you, remind yourself that you’re important too. Give yourself a nudge every now and again. How you doing, me? If the answer is, not that great, maybe it’s time to ask yourself if it’s time to take a little time to make it all about me.