BY: CLAIRE MULLEN
Self-care. A concept that seems to me, a 35-year-old mother of two young children, to be a luxurious thing of the just-me past. Perhaps something to look forward to in the less chaotic future. But what self-care most certainly is not is something that I’m practicing and excelling at in the here and now.
I do not lift my head from a silk pillowcase (people who invest in the condition of their hair say those are optimal) before the sun rises and start my morning intentionally with a green drink and 30 minutes of meditation and stretching. Somewhere along the way, I read that parents should habitually wake before their children to allow time for early morning solitude and organized planning of the day ahead. Doesn’t that sound just lovely?
My wake-up routine goes a little more like this: I open one eye after a distant and indistinguishable beeping stirs me from precious, interrupted sleep (I’ve already gotten up twice overnight to check for monsters and fetch a cup of water). The wide-open refrigerator alarm is sounding, and my cowlicked 4-year-old is standing at my bedside, tapping a frozen Eggo on my forehead in perfect rhythm with his chant, “Mo-mmywake- up. Mo-mmy-wake-up.”
I finally relent and fall out of bed to help him with the toaster, tripping on discarded shoes and toys along the way. On the most unfortunate of marches to the coffee pot, a stray Lego will find the heel of my bare foot. I would guess that a self-care expert would say that tidying your home before bed every night will help you to begin each day on the right, unbruised foot.
It would not be accurate to call anyone in my household a morning person, although it never fails that both children will make exceptions, but only on weekends. Most school days, I have approximately 45 minutes to rouse kiddos, make breakfast, comb hair, pack backpacks, review spelling words, feed the dog, and clothe bodies.
In my case, an oversized hoodie thrown on over never-seen-a-day-of-yoga yoga pants is almost always the outfit du jour. It does not escape me that I lovingly spray leave-in conditioner on my daughter’s freshly trimmed mane, brush it into a neat ponytail, and top it with a hairbow that coordinates with her starched school uniform while my own splitended hair usually sits tied atop my head, slightly askew, in something that I can only compare to a nest that even the humblest of birds would be ashamed to call home.
We are almost always running late, and I wonder if my neighbors judge me while I stand in the driveway barking orders, “Hurry! Get your lunchbox! Put on your coat!” On the drive to school, we listen to KidzBop and I realize that I left my to-go coffee on the counter. My mind drifts to the idea of my husband’s quiet, solo 15-minute commute to work. I wonder what podcast he listened to and exactly what temperature of hot his coffee was.
As soon as I drop the kids at school, I face the demands of the day. Where to begin?
There’s laundry. Piles upon piles of laundry. Mountains, really. Clean laundry in a basket on top of the dryer that’s waited so long to be folded that it ought to be sent right back to
Step 1. Folded laundry in another hamper on the stairs that just can’t seem to make its way to dresser drawers. Dirty laundry in bins in all four closets. Laundry that will visit me in my nightmares in the form of muddy, grassstained little pants with worn out knees.
I could tackle the laundry. Or I could exercise. That would be self-care. I should probably do that. Because at the top of my laundry pile is my favorite pair of jeans, with a gaping hole on one side. In a tense jump-wriggle-shimmy battle of hips versus skinny jeans, the pants were defeated with a final tug when one belt loop was ripped clean off. If getting dressed leaves one feeling a little winded, does it count as exercise? I could take the time to make myself a decent breakfast - something healthy and substantial to compensate for the cold coffee and my son’s discarded waffle crusts.
Perhaps I could apply a facemask, shape my cuticles, paint my toenails, take a catnap or listen to NPR while I soak in a hot bath with whatever fancy salts you’re supposed to use for relaxation and renewal.
But alas, there are floors to mop, groceries to buy, columns to write, emails that need responses. There’s everything but enough hours in the day.
I’ll end my day in the same comically dysfunctional way it began. I’ll stay up past midnight pairing socks, stacking tiny superhero underwear, and folding dance leotards. I’ll fall asleep on the couch before I get to my own pile, which means my noyoga- yoga-pants will be extra wrinkly in the morning.
But while I’m at it, I’ll savor a glass of red wine and watch one too many episodes of something on Netflix that will make me laugh.
And you know what? That feels an awful lot like self-care of my very own sort.
I marvel at the people in the same season of life as me who seem to be able to do it all. The ones who juggle parenthood and careers and still manage to squeeze in pre-dawn workouts and bedtime skincare regimens.
And when I cut myself a little slack, I can marvel at myself too, because I’m doing a pretty darn good job of taking care of the people I love. And besides, aren’t holey jeans, like, totally in right now?
Claire Mullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.