I’m sitting in a corner coffee shop, near my house. I am alone. I drink a green tea as I type this post, trying not to listen to the conversations taking place around me. My back is to the door: I’m determined not to be distracted from my hour of writing time. Weeks of mental preparation have brought me here, a morning of talking myself out of it, talking myself back into it. How is it possible that 4 years ago I did this kind of thing without a second thought? Now, I sit here nervously, expecting at any minute for the Mom Police to come up behind me, clap a heavy hand on my shoulder and take my tea away, spilling it across my lap and burning me. They wouldn’t take me to jail, no. Just back home to the babies.
If there are myriad blog posts and magazine articles and forum conversations dedicated to the importance of dad’s self-care, I apologize. I’ve missed them. Self-care, the very intentional practise of putting oneself first every once in awhile, is the realm of women and mothers. We are socialized, particularly as mothers, to put everyone BUT ourselves first, all of the time. Then we read that the key to staying sane is to care for ourselves. To put the oxygen mask on ourselves first. Enjoy a cup of tea, they write. Take a long bath. Go for a run. Practice yoga. And these things all sound wonderful and simple, but the truth is, they’re not. Taking care of yourself after not doing that for several years is SO HARD. I expect it will take several weeks of regularly coming to this coffee shop, sitting at this same table with this same mug of green tea, before I feel good about this. Before it feels easy and my cup truly feels full.
Why? Why is this so difficult?
Maybe it’s wrapped up in my own failing self-worth. If I don’t feel like I deserve even this, a couple of hours spread out across the week, then of course this time would feel stolen from the laps of my children, prised from their grimy little fingers. Of course I’m waiting for someone to call my bluff, send me packing back to dirty diapers and the endless loop of making snacks and cleaning them up.
Maybe I take some kind of sick pleasure out of being a martyr. I will spend all my time with these kids if it kills us all, dammit. But nobody really likes a martyr, they’re worshipped only after they’re long dead. Living with one: not fun. And I am worth so much more to my family if I’m living, and happy to be doing so.
Maybe I like to think that I’m the only one who knows how to care for them properly, the only one they want. Charlotte has started sucking her thumb this past week, soothing herself to sleep on many occasions. And each time she does, I am surprised, happy, devastated. Already, three months old, she doesn’t need me for that one little moment. If all I am is a baby-soother, a milk-maker, a bum-wiper, then of course it feels uncomfortable to be something other.
So here I am, in the world of the living. In the world of adults with complicated beverage orders, with softly playing indie folk music floating on the cool air. And around me, others talk with friends, they do a Sudoku puzzle, they read the news on their laptop. I am incognito, taking care of myself. I pencil it into my calendar: “self-care, 10 am”. It’s ridiculous and it’s the only way. So if you’re like me, and you find it almost impossible to take care of yourself: Do it. Find a way. Be uncomfortable the first 10 times you do it, and then slowly, like I hope to, I hope you’ll feel better about it, too.
I’ll write my book of poems, my collection of short stories, my novel, one stolen hour at a time.