As I am typing this, I am sitting in a booth at a restaurant down the street from my church, while my older daughters enjoy their time at youth group. I am hunkered down with my laptop, with a steaming hot bowl of chicken and dumpling soup and a sandwich, all by myself. All by myself. I don’t think I can describe to you how weird that is. I am a mother of seven children, and I work full time as an activities assistant in a memory care home. It’s a perfect fit for my extroverted personality, but it does mean that I am almost never alone, and I am almost always caring for someone else. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. Very few people are blessed with as rich and varied relationships as I have. Everyday, in both a personal and professional capacity, the majority of my time is spent doing things I find genuinely valuable for people I genuinely care about. I have cultivated connections with people from all walks of life, on all ends of the age spectrum, and I have benefited from that more than words could ever express. But the truth is, I have pretty badly neglected my own needs for a very long time, and it’s starting to show. I was actually pretty surprised that I kept this appointment. I am generally pretty good at being accountable to others, but, like many people, trample over my commitments to myself with stunning regularity.
Two weeks ago, I turned 40, and I am assigning myself a little midlife crisis. It’s time to give at least a little time and attention to figuring out who Stephanie is again. In a bit of a twist on tradition, it’s time to love myself the way I love others. It’s time to have some regularly scheduled down time, a haircut and an adequate number of pants. I’m not asking for miracles here, just fewer days of needing dry shampoo and enough sleep to maintain some semblance of health. I’m not resolving to cut out sweets, because I know that will last until the next time someone brings donuts to work, but I am resolving to eat more fruits and vegetables, and drink more water that is not actually coffee. I’m going to clean my room and make my bed, and, if I make an appointment with myself, I’m going to give it the same weight I would give an appointment with anyone else.
I’m going to stop making everyone else’s lack of planning, or bad decision making my problem, and let them solve it themselves, within reason. I mean, justice is tempered with mercy, but if you can’t find your shoes because you left them in the yard, you are wearing your boots, and taking your lumps if that means you can’t go to gym. (How in the world did I make a kid who finds missing gym to be a punishment?)
I’m not going to take on all of the mental load anymore. There’s no reason for it. If a task is assigned to someone else, I am not going to remind them 20 times to do it. I’m not going to find every phone number or recipe or piece of information anyone needs. If someone wants me to remember the date of that thing they want to do, they can write it on the calendar. I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night anymore with a to-do list in my head.
I will care for a sick child, play a board game, help study for a test, do my share of the chores, snuggle, go for walks, read books together, and a million other things that are right and proper to the roles I have assumed in life. I will not make it easy for the rest of my family to skate by with minimal effort. In the end, I think this is going to benefit them as much as it benefits me. Everyone feels more confident when they know that they are taking care of their responsibilities to the best of their ability. I suspect there is going to be a bit of a learning curve, and possibly some wailing and gnashing of teeth for a few weeks, but they are smart, capable people, and I have faith in their ability to manage it.