An Italian-American living la dolce vita in the Deep South

An Italian-American living la dolce vita in the Deep South

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Speak to Me Sunday: Self Care and Sacrifice

I have a friend who works in the business world and every few months she calls to chat. She tells me what is going on in her life, I share news from my life, and toward the end of every conversation she invariably asks, "So, Maria. What do you do for yourself?"

The first time she asked me that question, I was caught off guard. Do? For myself? Was she serious?
So I tried to make a joke out of it: I took a shower while the boys were napping! I had red wine with takeout pizza! I went for a walk after everyone was in bed! I got a hair cut!
The second time she asked me that same question I wanted to snap, "What do you think?" because, at the time, Nicholas and Jonathan were 22 months apart and we had just come through pneumonia (Nicholas) and a hospitalization with RSV (Jonathan). But I managed to hold back my snarky comment because I didn't want to sound defensive.
Why, though, did her question always put me on edge?
I think part of the problem is that I saw the question as narrow-minded; it's as if everything I mentioned in our conversation involving my dual roles as wife and mother were not as important (or interesting) as what I could be doing for me. The question frustrated me because, during many of those times in my life when I was called to dig deep (and I'm not being overly dramatic), there just simply wasn't any time for me, and I was okay with that.
Let's face it. Motherhood is not always a Rembrandt painting with soft edges and muted colors. Between those tender moments of watching a sleeping child, accepting a wilted flower that was picked especially for you, or snuggling on the couch during a thunderstorm are just as many nitty gritty moments which involve cleaning toilets, bandaging skinned knees, dealing with know-it-all teens, or getting up during the night to make sure a fever hasn't spiked.
Now, before I go any further let me clarify something: of course it's important to take care of ourselves; of course it's important to take a break; of course it's important to have a date night with your spouse. But what society seems to be saying is that only when you give to yourself can you truly give of yourself.
Which I find very, very limiting because it doesn't leave any room for sacrifice.
Swiss writer, Henri Frederic Amiel, once wrote: Sacrifice, which is the passion of great souls, has never been the law of societies. Although those words were written in the 1800's, they are just as true today. In this culture of now and instant gratification and self-fulfillment you will not find a more foreign concept than sacrifice.
But part of what I do and who I am as a wife and mother sometimes (often?) involves sacrifice, which was not quite what my friend was looking for.
What do I do for myself? To answer the question, sure, sometimes I buy a new outfit, go to the beach for a weekend with my sister, or meet a friend for lunch. But sometimes I throw in yet another load of laundry, shop for groceries between carpool runs, try not to lose my temper, or cancel my hair appointment to take someone to the doctor; paradoxically, these things, too, answer her question.
What my friend didn’t understand was that sometimes the only thing I can do for myself is to do the best I can, because otherwise I would be less than who I am; that sometimes, when I strive to do what I have been called to do with love, grace, forbearance, and even sacrifice, then that is the best thing I can do for myself.

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