Last spring, a debilitating version of the flu crept up on me. My husband had an important meeting, otherwise he would have stayed home so I could spend my day shivering in bed. Instead, I had to keep the children alive — on my own.
After letting them watch cartoons for an hour, the chills and aches worsened. I called our uni-age babysitter, and it was the best decision I could have made. She waltzed through the door, and I crawled back to my bedroom. I never emerged again that day. The babysitter stayed until my husband came home from work. I woke up the next day fever-free and ready to be mum again.
While in my delirium, I realised that the fact I even considered taking care of my kids that day was insane. I needed to start doing things for myself again. I no longer had a baby who needed me almost every hour of every day, my preschooler was fully toilet-trained, and my toddler was becoming more independent every minute. My superpower would no longer be pleasing everyone. Instead, I would please myself and shovel out my identity that was buried under years of joy-filled monotony.
On that day I was sick, the old me would have tried to suck it up. I would have put that super mum cape on and stayed home to breathe germs in my kids' faces all day. I would have thrown a massive pity party for myself — pissed that mums always have to do it all.
When I was a new mother, that cape helped me run the house, the kids, the job — everything. I worked Monday through Friday, graded papers on Saturday, and meal prepped for the week on Sunday. I rarely worked out, wrote, went out with friends, or did much of anything for myself. This is nothing new for mums. We submerge ourselves in the dishes and nappies — fuelled by the desire and expectation to make the entire family happy.
But you know what? Screw that. It's up to us to change that. We earn no medal for sucking it up. No one will ever give us a gold, shiny trophy for doing it all (shouldn't that be the REAL Academy Awards, though? Starring in a movie is probably hard, but try being sick with no nanny and personal chef to call). So, LET'S STOP. Instead, other people can chip in. Call the grandparents or a babysitter. Tell your spouse that you're playing hooky for the day. Grab your supermum cape, and on the way out say, "So long, suckers."
Now, I put that superwoman cape on to save myself, not my kids. I let the laundry pile up, the clean dishes sit in the dishwasher, and most importantly, I get out of the house and do things I used to enjoy. At least once a week, I take a day for myself. I go for a long run in the woods to clear my head. I set a goal last autumn to run a half marathon, and with hard work, I accomplished it. But my favourite thing to do in my time away from the house and kids is to go to a coffee shop — alone — and write. This time with my own thoughts and solitude is underrated.
I no longer look at the clock and wonder what's for dinner (my husband can worry about that), or even miss the kids. I let this precious time escape me for too many years while I fumbled through the baby and toddler haze. Now, I make sure to cram in this time for myself whenever I can. It took me a long time to realise that my kids shouldn't always come first. I am a priority, and if I'm not happy, my kids will feel that. I've learned to be selfish again, because at the end of the day, I'm a better mum for it.