Whenever my mother wanted to hurt me, she would tell me I was selfish. In fact, not too long after she died someone close to her wanted to hurt me, and they said “your mother always used to say how selfish you were.” Ouch. Without getting into all of the reasons why someone might want to hurt another person who is grieving, let me just say: it stung.
It has always stung.
Because it is true.
We are born selfish, after all- I look at baby Luca and I see this so clearly. He knows only his own needs and does not hesitate to let us know, and loudly, when they are not being met. He is too young for sympathy (or its older and wiser brother empathy) and he doesn’t care if I am tired or trying to pee because when he needs me, HE NEEDS ME. It doesn’t occur to him to care about my needs because he is a baby and he is not yet wired to care. It’s only later, when our basic needs have been met and we know we are cared for that we can start to take the blinders off and look beyond our immediate selves.
I have been watching empathy start to develop in the older kids, especially in my oldest, a sensitive boy who often gets stuck in the middle of wanting to beat the crap out of his sisters and feeling tremendously guilty for even thinking of doing so. While I have no doubt that someday he will make a life out of serving others, now often I find him choosing instead to swing. It’s a process.
And I see the struggle in us, Nick and I, two people who are STILL trying to make peace with the fact that we now come last in a long list of people whose incessant needs must always be met.
When I was pregnant for the first time, I felt many things, but mixed up in there was RELIEF. This was it, the end of me and only me. No longer would it matter what I looked like, what my house looked like, how successful my career was or what I weighed or what pants size I was wearing or whether or not people liked me or I remembered to pluck my chin hairs because… BABY! I didn’t know at all what motherhood looked like but I had read all of the books and seen all of the Hallmark commercials and I knew that once that baby came out I was going to be so consumed with love and maternal-ness that there wouldn’t be any room anymore for self-doubt or self-love or selfishness or even SELF.
And seeing as I was pretty damn sick of worrying about myself all of the time, I was so ready.
Except it didn’t happen like that. Jack came out and OH GOD THE LOVE but still, right behind that, was me. I still found the time in between diaper changes and nursing sessions to worry about how big my butt had gotten, and whether or not they would still like me at my job once my maternity leave was over. I worried that my friends wouldn’t like me anymore because I always had to say no to hanging out and I worried that my baby wouldn’t like me anymore the few times I actually said yes and did hang out. Of course, incessantly and overwhelmingly, I worried about my baby. Yet somehow, I also still worried about me.
This was disconcerting, to say the least; because I was sure it meant I was doing it all wrong.
So we had another.
Now there were two under two. Surely NOW I would be so consumed with mothering that I would lose myself in the process. And oh yes, life got crazy. There were two cribs and two sizes of diapers and two babies crying in the middle of the night. There were firsts with the first and new firsts with the second and dietary restrictions and surgeries and it was really, really hard. There was marriage strain and yelling but when I’m honest, most of what I yelled was “what about ME??” because again, my pesky selfishness didn’t go away. There was Jack, and there was Maria, and my heart was swollen to bursting with how much they mattered, but I was still there too. And I still worried about my butt and my job and my friends and the fact that I was yelling at my husband all of the time and what if he didn’t love me anymore and holy crap what did we do.
And so we had another.
And for good measure, one more.
And now today there are four separate entities that somehow happen to each simultaneously have the entirety of my heart. And miraculously there is still a husband, and then there is the love I feel for each one of the five’s relationship with the others, so I am not a mathematician but I’m pretty sure that means that there are like a quintillion things that I am worried about before I am even allowed to entertain the idea of worrying about myself.
Confession: I still worry about myself.
Most nights I have this ritual after everyone goes to bed and the house FINALLY falls quiet where I go around and do all of the stupid little shit like straighten the pillows and pick up the toys and wipe away the fingerprints from the glass and the whole time, as I am moving around the house like a zombie because I should have gone to bed myself two hours ago, I am saying in my head “wine TV couch wine TV couch” like it’s a mantra. I am telling myself if I just do EVERYTHING, if I just make sure everything is safely in its place, then I have earned an hour of TV and a glass of wine and the right to plant my butt on the couch.
As if, at the end of a long day, this is still a thing that must be earned.
As if keeping four little people alive wasn’t an accomplishment.
As if staying married for ten years wasn’t an accomplishment.
As if paying the mortgage wasn’t an accomplishment.
As if none of it even counts until I have lined up the shoes and wiped off the cooktop and gotten the coffee ready for tomorrow.
Confession: I love that hour.
I love my husband, and holy crap do I love my kids, but I still love that hour. Like, a lot. A LOT. Sometimes I even let it stretch out into two hours. Sometimes I even let it stretch into two glasses or a bowl of ice cream or BOTH.
And sometimes I turn off the TV and I do nothing but breathe in the silence.
And, yes, sometimes I feel guilty for this. There are so many things I could be doing, things that would better serve my family. I could fold laundry or dust or learn how to bake. I could choose sleep and maybe not wake up in the morning a sleep deprived monster. I could sacrifice myself and my hour and I could choose them. But I don’t.
Because you know what?
I AM SELFISH.
And when I don’t take that hour or anything else for myself, when I blink and entire weekends have gone by and I didn’t even shower and there is baby puke crusted to my shirt but the laundry is done and everyone is fed and at least I am accomplished and whole, THAT is when I look around at my family and I know that they appreciate that I have sacrificed myself and my time in order to serve them.
Cause that’s the thing, isn’t it? NO. ONE. CARES. There is no medal ceremony for the martyr moms who don’t find the time to take care of themselves. I get no crown. Trust me when I say that no one will be impressed when you drag yourself out of bed the morning after giving birth on your bathroom floor and start the laundry. Some might even say you’re being stubborn and ridiculous, and you know what?
THEY WOULD BE RIGHT.
I know all too well that time moves dangerously fast and these babies will soon not even BE babies anymore and there will not be a perpetual ring at baby height of greasy fingerprints around my house to ritually wipe up night after night after night. I know someday (if I do a halfway decent job AND we are extraordinarily lucky) these babies will grow into functional adults and then I will be left lonely on my couch with a glass of wine and the remote.
I know that if I don’t take a little time for myself now I will surely inherit a mess then.
I teach yoga and I talk about self-care. I hear myself saying to my kids as they struggle to learn to sympathize and empathize and feel all the feelings and still survive “if you don’t love yourself, you can’t really love anyone else.”
And I think YES.
THIS IS WHY I GET MY HOUR.
Again, I am no mathematician, but 23 out of 24 ain’t bad.