“Donʼt ever have your husband tell me youʼre not a good housewife.” “Your children and your husband come ﬁrst!” “You must accomplish something!!” “You can do anything you set your mind to!”
Mamaʼs voice always came through loud and clear, even 3000 miles away. I took these warnings to heart, thinking that I had to do all and be all to everyone.
Here I was, with two children, ages 7 and 3; a husband who worked 50-60 hours a week; our ﬁrst-owned house; the grocery shopping, the cooking, the laundry, the house cleaning; the chauffeuring in the mornings to the babysitterʼs, the elementary school, my husbandʼs work place , and my substitute teaching job (we had only one car); then the reverse trip in the evening. Hey, I could do it all,
Then, one Wednesday morning, I woke up more exhausted than usual. My chest was congested, my head ached and my breathing came in shallow, raspy wheezes after I coughed my lungs out. Convincing myself that I was coming down with just a cold, I willed my body to get out of bed. I shufﬂed to the kitchen and began making breakfast. I didnʼt have time to be sick; there was too much to
be done, right?
I had to get my three year old dressed and ready for the sitter (Had I packed his favorite truck? Did he have a change of clothes? What WAS it his sitter had reminded me not to forget?). I had to make sure that my 7 year old had her homework and sweater in her backpack (Was TODAY school pictures? Did I forget to sign her permission slip for her classʼ ﬁeld trip? And, by the way, when
was THAT?) Had I ironed his shirt? Did I pay the electric bill? Was today garbage day?
My brain reeled; my already sick body could take no more. I collapsed onto the ﬂoor.
My husband then drove the children to the sitter and to school, came back home, helped me into the car and drove me to the emergency room. I was so weak, I could barely stand up.
The doctor diagnosed chronic bronchitis/pneumonia. He prescribed at least ﬁve days of bed rest. Here comes the good part; he asked me if I wanted to go home to recuperate or stay in the hospital. My ﬁrst reaction was to immediately remember my momʼs warnings (read them again at the beginning of this blog). Then came the usual tapes of “Oh, my gosh, what would my family do without
me? How would everything get done? I donʼt have time to be sick!”
I stopped and heard myself. What was I doing? Was I the only adult in this family? Why was I holding on to Momʼs “dire” warnings? Heck, she was 3000 miles away. I was an adult. I could take care of myself, couldnʼt I??
Exhausted, achy, bleary-eyed, weak from a wracking cough, I looked the ER doc squarely in the eye and blurted out, “Are you kidding? Iʼm staying here!!!”
I recuperated, of course. I went home with a renewed sense of self. It was a test for me to see if my family could do without me; it was a test for me to see if I could take these 5 days and truly rest – without guilt, without “accomplishing something”. It was ﬁnally a test for my family; they could and did survive very well, thankyouverymuch, without Mom.
From then on, I began taking some time for me; I joined a womenʼs support group, returned to ballet (I had quit when I was 16), and started organizing the familyʼs job chart. Whenever I left the kids with my husband, I still had to talk myself out of feeling guilty that I was taking time just for me, but I began feeling that I was worth being cared for, that I didnʼt have to wait until I collapsed to get
some rest, that I didnʼt have to be all and do all for everyone. I was NOT indispensable. Thank goodness.
Now, many hundreds of afﬁrmation post-it notes later, I still hear Momʼs admonitions, but the one I choose to react to is: “You can do anything you set your mind to.”
Yes, I can. I still am.