This is a story about why I ditched my family for the beach…
My daughter just started kindergarten, and my family was in the midst of a major transition. Things were messy. Our days started an hour and a half earlier and this completely messed up our family rhythm. Joy and laughter had been replaced by chaos, upset, exhaustion and in my case, unmet needs. Sleep at the top of the list.
It was a long, exhausting day at work, and I was looking forward to going home, making a delicious dinner, which I love to do not just for my family, but for me. I love the process of planning, prepping and cooking, it’s calming. I opened the front door, ready to plop down my bags and melt into the safety of my home, where my 5-year old daughter and my entrepreneur life-coach husband would be waiting for me.
Now, let me back up a bit to say that up until kindergarten, our days looked something more like this:
Wake up at 7 or 8 am (if I’m lucky), start the day with some snuggle-time (which is my favorite time of the day), then take a slow shower while my daughter and husband build legos or grab a muffin at the Cow’s End coffee shop. Pre-school didn’t start until 9:30 am. Ah… the good old days.
With our new 8 am start time, gone was the slow pace of the gradual morning, gone was the peace of snuggle time and oh yeah, did I mention long showers? Ha! We were all feeling the pressure of the new schedule and new routine and on this particular day, the spark that culminated into a wildfire of emotions by the time I got home was real…
I walked into the house around 5:15 pm and the first thing I saw, within seconds of entering, was my daughter upset about something, in tears and using her “loud voice” meanwhile, my husband was typing away on his computer, doing his best to ignore the upset that I had just walked in to.
Typically my response would have been something laced with perhaps a loud voice, lots of questions about what the hell is going on, which would have then spiraled into my own release of upset and frustration, most likely using a “loud voice” with my unsuspecting husband.
But not on this day.
I looked at the scene, looked at the time, put my bags down on the floor and within a split second, made a choice; I walked out the door.
And I kept on walking.
I ended up walking all the way to the beach (which is about 10 minutes from our house). At the edge of the sand, I breathed deeply, took off my shoes, sunk my bare toes into the soft, cool sand. By the water’s edge, I let out a quiet sigh of relief. Joy returned… just like that!
It was revelatory.
It was freedom.
I literally laughed out loud at how amazing I felt, without guilt or shame or thought. I was happy and somewhere, deep inside, I knew this was perfect.
It was MY self-care. The kind of self-care that we talk about in every weekend workshop I attend, in every LA YOGA magazine article I read and every journal entry I have attempted to complete, where I was determined to take care of myself.
Joy inspired clarity…
I don’t have to consent to her upset.
I don’t have to always be the “middle man”.
I get to take care of me.
But wait … What’s happening at the house?
Based on past experience, I assumed that my daughter was probably in a time-out in her room, screaming bloody murder in a full-blown “where is mommy” tantrum and that’s when the anxiety slowly crept in. I waited for the “Where are you? Come home” text from my husband… but it never came. In this space of radio silence, I began to fear going home… What was waiting for me? Uncooked dinner, another tantrum? I waited for the guilt to come next, for abandoning my family… but it never came.
I just stood there, at the edge of the ocean, in the silence, savoring the feeling of joy. Anxiety and fear washed away with the next wave. This is what self-care is! My life-coach husband has been telling me to do this for years. “Babe, go take a walk. Jump in the ocean for a swim.” This is what he does and it works for him, but I always resist, with a defiant response, “Stop telling me what I need or how to live my life.” And he would just shake his head as if to say, “why won’t she just take care of herself? It’s so simple.”
It IS this simple.
Almost half an hour passed and I started to get a bit chilly, it was also getting late for dinner. Just before I turned to walk home, I decided, in this space of joy and comfort, that I would greet whatever was waiting for me at home with compassion and a smile.
When I opened the front door, the house was warm, I could smell food was cooking on the stove and the most lovely flamenco song was playing in the background. It was like I stepped into a time warp… everything had changed. My 5-year-old ran up to me with a huge smile on her face, gave me a squeezy-tight hug and said: “I’m sorry Mommy, welcome home.”
It was like my family was just waiting for me to take care of myself. And in doing so, they stepped up to take care of themselves with total grace and ease. My “mommy martyr story” about how “I have to do it all,” started to fade at that moment. “Just give people a chance to show up” my husband would say to me. Well, I did, despite it feeling like a big risk and what a total delight it was.
I am aware that my self-care is not just for me, but for everyone else in my life; family, friends, and co-workers. The revelation is this: the thing I need for myself is the exact thing they need and that by taking care of me first, inevitably and most likely, it will result in them taking care of themselves. This is exactly what the airlines mean when they instruct: “Please put your oxygen mask on first before assisting another.”
Sitting in this memory, I am aware that so much of my identity has been wrapped around my ability to take care of others and fix things. I am really good at that. Always helping, fixing, doing and then … getting overworked, overrun and resenting everyone I helped. This is the shadow side of the Mother Theresa vision of myself. And it lives in the dark corner of putting myself last. It lives in the dark corner of thinking that I need to “help” people by indulging in over-responsibility and putting myself in the middle of their problems. My family and my friends are all perfectly capable of taking care of themselves and as I am learning… so am I.