Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Mothering Myself

I stir from sleep, one ear off the pillow. “Mommy”-- I hear my daughter’s plaintive voice. Red numbers flash 4:30a.m. Groggily, I tiptoe down the hall and sit on her bed. Kate pulls me close – sobbing, a bad dream. She wants me to lie beside her because she’s afraid to fall back asleep. Chalk it up to one more night of interrupted sleep. At age 48, with insomnia and night sweats kicking in, some mornings I have a serious sleep deficit and would much rather stay in bed than get up and make breakfast. It’s not possible for me to quit my job, since my full time work is house-manager and mother for now. But before lack of sleep and pre-menopause turns me into mommy ogre, I’ve decided I need to mother myself.

Recently, there is a voice that is downright insistent about the need to take good care of myself. It complains that it doesn’t want to walk the dog, because she pulls on the leash and hurts my sore shoulder. Get the kids to walk her. (The physiotherapist said the same thing). It whispers to me to jump into bed with a heating pad right after the kids are tucked in. Or let them tuck me in! It gives me simple advice, like ‘sleep when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry, go pee when you have to’. Simple wisdom, but it’s hard to put into practice.

If that inner voice were my mother, what would she tell me? First, she’d say in that endearing way she has, quit complaining you’re tired and go to bed earlier! No more reading past midnight. She’d also tell me to sit down properly at a table, not shovel food standing up at the counter on my way out the door to the doctor’s. She’d say, slow down the pace - take a nap. My mother took a nap every day (8 kids in ten years forced her to). She’d ask me why I load up the agenda with an overwhelming list of chores to do. Before I’m even dressed the mental list starts humming: call the vet, get the tires changed, shampoo the dog vomit out of the carpet, get a quote for new garage doors, buy the latest
‘cool’ item for the kids’ lunches…. I read that keeping overly busy is a way of masking the inner voice, and leads to exhaustion. Maybe taking one item off the list per day will leave more room for creative time, help me get to that story I’ve been meaning to write.

Leaving open space on my agenda would make room for spontaneity too, like going for a walk in the park instead of letting the dogs out for a quick romp in the yard. Finding time to ‘be’ more and do less is a real challenge for a busy mom. Even if I don’t work outside the home (besides volunteer work), my inner task master doesn’t allow much free time for my own projects -- I could be more creative if I listened to my gentler, inner voice who coaxes me to sort through the pile of poems on my desk or to go out and rake old leaves, discover new shoots in the garden. I need quiet time to replenish the soul (in spite of the nagging voice that says, get back to the dishes, the laundry), to allow some moments of beauty into the day to reflect on the life lived, as well as living it.

The one thing my inner voice is adamant about is making time to sit quietly early in the morning before the family awakens. If a child wakes up and wants me to put in a movie on the weekend, I settle her in, then head back to my cozy chair by the window to contemplate the peace within. It soothes me like a comforter to rest inside the breath. I catch up with my sense of serenity, my purpose for being in the world seems confirmed, now that I am centered again. For me, morning practice is best, before getting caught in the phone calls and email trap.

Listening to the soft voice within has many benefits. Allowing myself these special moments every day allows my heart to appreciate the abundance in my life, the warm sunshine, the birds in the back yard, a new moon in a dark sky, and lets me be all here for my gorgeous children in the limited amount of years they need me so totally. So I’ve decided I can’t put off mothering myself until they leave home. That’s too far away. Have you noticed in the video instructions for putting on an oxygen mask on the airplane, you are told to put it on your own mouth first, then on your children? I think of that as a beautiful metaphor for mothering myself, which will help me be the best mother for my children.


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