I'm sitting in my car with the ac blasting. In front of me is the wide blue ocean. It's low tide so the beach goes on forever. The water is shimmering in the sun and it looks bluer than normal. Behind me are two sleeping babies fastened into their car seats. We got in the car to run an errand, but they both fell asleep a few minutes into the ride, so I detoured straight to the beach.
Deep breath. I am so tired and these few minutes have to recharge me. The girls have been sick for two weeks. Fevers, tears, restless nights, runny noses, goopy eyes, rounds of medicines and doctor's visits and trips to the pharmacy. One gets better, one gets sick. And on and on we go.
Yesterday I singlehandedly managed what I call poopacolypse 2017 in the parking lot of the pediatrician's office. I mean, it was bad. Really really bad. I deserve a medal and a spa vacation. And a million dollars.
A few days ago I posted on Instagram encouraging moms to take care of themselves. I believe that we all have to come up for air sometimes and remember to tend our own hearts first. When we are at peace, our children feel it. But here's the thing I'm struggling with: WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?!? Really. I mean, what is true respite and self care for a mom? Does it exist? Is it spa days, date nights, alone time, girls nights, eating right, exercising, journaling, praying, meditating...or something else? Is it something we do or is it a state of mind? What can we really do in the world of self care to carry us forward in the hard work of motherhood?
I've struggled with this for a while. I know that self care is critical. How can we pour from an empty cup, right? But if I'm real about it, self care feels like more work a lot of times. I do all the things that are the sort of prescribed "me time" activities. Going to meet friends or on a date with my husband or to get my hair done or exercise or read. But really, it just creates a backlog of things that are not happening at home while I'm "taking care of myself." Then I have to work double time to catch up. It just wasn't working. All my "self care" efforts just made me more tired.
I'm realizing though, as I'm sitting here, that I've been doing it all wrong. How do we take care of ourselves without creating more work at home? We don't. There's no answer. The extra work will always be there, so we have to CHOOSE not to worry about it, to allow ourselves grace and to decide that we are worth taking care of, even if it costs us a messy house or means take out for dinner.
My other mistake is depending on others for my self care. Girls nights and date nights have a place in our wellbeing, but we can't reap their fruits until we tend our own hearts. Self care is about the self. It's about our own spirit. Our own heart. Our real, only one that ever was and ever will be, SELF.
So instead of packing in girls' nights and manicures but then feeling empty afterwards, we have to learn what really truly makes us come alive. It takes some exploring and experimenting; and just like our hearts are each unique, the path to our heart is also unique. Maybe it is yoga or painting or styling outfits. Maybe it's traveling or kickboxing or cooking. We all have a direct path to our truest selves. For me, it's writing and being outside. When I desperately want that nap, but I grab my journal or go for a walk instead, something happens. My heart opens and the world slows down and the dishes don't matter. The ideas flow straight from my heart, and this tiny bubbling starts to happen inside. Like a little stream that's dried up bubbling out of the ground for the first time in a while. Pushing through the dirt and finding its flow again, starting to trickle and spread, then finally gushing out, alive and flowing and live giving. It is my self care. It is healing and soothing and exciting all at the same time.
Once I've tended that little flowing fountain inside of me, then everything else is better, richer, more fun, more fulfilling. The gushing waters flow out from me and soak into every area of my life, nurturing my relationships, growing my marriage, and flourishing my children. But as long as I'm dried up inside, there's no life, nothing to sustain me, and certainly nothing to share.
What starts the bubbling can be hard to identify because the world tells us what self care is. It should look a certain way, and fit into a box labeled "self care." But no, friends, self care can't be lumped into one designated group of activities, it really is about the SELF. The unique and beautiful and wild self that we each are. Self care is not prescribed by the world, it's planted in us at our creation. It's innate. We just have to learn how to access it.
Don't let the world tell you how to care for yourself. You'll only feel depleted and frustrated that it's not working, just another thing to do. But you were created with the ability to transcend your circumstances, your schedule, the world. You were created with a unique gateway. Your own direct access to your heart. To God. When you figure out what it is? You'll know what self care is, and you will feel better, Mama. Still tired, but so so much better.