My son sits in his stroller, ensconced in the Polar Bundleme (which I registered for in terror of taking my February baby outside). He’s also wearing his winter jacket, mittens, a hood, and a hat. In my bag there are emergency raisins, super-emergency blueberries, his sippy cup, a couple board books, a change of clothes, diapers, wipes, and a few toy cars. He is warm, and will be fed, watered, and entertained for the duration of our outing.
And then there’s me.
My super warm coat (bought for me by my own mother in terror of Boston winters) is slung casually over the arm of our couch. In our house. Which is 15 miles away. Likewise, my gloves. I have a hat, but mostly just because pulling it on was quicker than brushing my hair. I’m hungry because my son took a fancy to my cereal and ate half of it. I’d forgotten that the boots I’m wearing give me blisters.
I do this all the time. In the summer, it’s sunscreen — I spend so much of my time ensuring that his pale nose is protected that I forget about my own. I am forever drinking from his sippy cup and wondering how all the soggy crumbs get in there. Often my sandwiches are basically just bread and lettuce because he nabs all the other fillings.
This is not, I promise you, a humblebrag about how selfless I am. I do not see my general state of disarray and thirst as a badge of honor. It’s ridiculous. The world would not end if I took five minutes to pack myself water and a granola bar. My nose succumbing to sunburn does not protect his. And I don’t think I’m alone in constantly forgetting or forgoing my own needs amid the chaos of mothering.
We need to get back to basics with self-care.
Mostly, when people ask what moms do for self-care, they talk about manicures or spa days. Girls’ nights out or date nights. All these things are great. When they also involve red wine and chocolate, they’re super great. But it often seems like self-care has come to mean self-indulgence — we ignore our fundamental needs by putting emphasis on the more fun and extravagant ones. True self-care needs to be more basic, more daily and deliberate. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from “intro to psych”? It’s been awhile, but I’m fairly sure food and water came before massages.
I think it’s easier sometimes to check off self-care by doing something everyone around you can notice and approve of. And a manicure only takes 30 minutes once a month*. Actually making sure you take a shower, wear clean clothes, eat enough food, drink water, and put on sunscreen means taking time for yourself every day. Mom guilt is real, and while sometimes it serves a purpose by forcing me to get off my darn phone and play trains, other times it needs to be told where to go. I remind myself daily that The Family is a living organism of which I am a vital part, and it’s no good if I’m dying of thirst while everyone else is warm, fed, and watered. They need me. Who else is going to remember to pack super-emergency blueberries?
For me, it was self-care when I finally conceded that we needed to sleep train. It’s self-care when I put Peppa Pig on the laptop and stick my son in the pack-and-play so I can shower in peace. It’s self-care when I remember my own water, and it’s self-care when I say no to him eating every last bit of chicken from my sandwich. It’s extra-special self-care when I wake up my husband for the morning shift so that I can go back to sleep.
Let me be clear. I am not saying the more fun stuff isn’t important. And I’m not saying self-care is just about remembering your own water bottle. By all means, book that massage and schedule that manicure, spa day, and girls’ night out**. But while you’re at it, make sure you cover the base of the pyramid as well. Make sure you take care of your most basic needs just like you take care of those of your family. They need you, and not just because you remember blueberries.
*In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I’ve only had one manicure in my entire life and I peeled off all the polish within three days. My nails are a total disaster and I consider them “done” if minimally bitten and reasonably clean. I’m using manicure here as an example. My manicure equivalent would probably be a candlelit bath with wine, chocolate, and a good book.
**Or take a bath, read a book, and sneak off to the MFA on a Wednesday evening with a friend. Don’t forget wine.