Every evening when I sit down to have dinner with my husband, he will ask me how my day was. I used to launch into an offloading session where I update him on the latest progress or gossip at work or amongst social circles. These days, instead of just blabbering about my day, I will stop and think about it, before telling him whether it was a good day or a bad day.
Last Thursday was a bad day. I was having a grand self-pitying moment while driving home from work. My shoulders had been aching for 2 weeks and I couldn’t find a time to get a quick massage. Weeks of carrying my 10kg son in the baby carrier with his school backpack on my shoulders have taken a toll. Add to that my terrible posture at my work desk, and handling an ill-adjusted steering wheel of my new car (I haven’t figured out what’s a good height), it just aggravated the situation.
The Mommy Mule. That’s my pump bag (breast pump and ice pack) hanging off my son’s school backpack because it kept sliding off my shoulders.
My work was piling and I didn’t see any end in sight. One of my junior staff had recently resigned and we have not found a replacement for another position, which meant in a few weeks time our 5-men team will be down to 3. The thought of all the work I had to cover until we hired someone makes me want to throw myself onto the bed and wail.
I was on my way to my mom’s place to pick up my child. There had been a case of chicken pox at his school so I was keeping him in that week so he would not catch it and pass it to me. I have not had chicken pox before and I have been putting off getting a vaccination jab. On top of all the things I had to do, I had to get myself jabbed soon. That went right to the top of the list.
Since my mom was helping me take care of my child that day, I was rushing through peak hour traffic to relieve my mother from having spent the day taking care of an active child. Added to that, my husband was waiting for me at home so we could go have dinner. He sent a text message with the words “ASAP”.
The letters “ASAP” were going round and round my mind as I sat in traffic. I was stuck in bumper to bumper traffic and the car in front of me wasn’t going anywhere. I glanced at the clock and mentally calculated the number of hours my mom had been watching my child, and felt slightly guilty. Guilty at having to ask my mom the favour although she would gladly help me take care of my child anytime. Guilty that if I had been pox vaccinated earlier I wouldn’t have to take such precautions. Guilty that if I had gotten married and had a child earlier, my mom would have been much younger and have the energy to manage a young child. My thoughts started spiraling down the list of things I could possibly be guilty about.
By the time I got to my mom’s, I was almost in tears. But there was no time to cry, as the minute my mom opened the door, she was updating me on what my son did, what time he ate and slept, how often did he poop, how he fared in general. And because she’s my mom and not a childminder, I asked her how her day was and she began offloading onto me. Her aches and pains. Her grumbles. As I listened, all of that became my aches, my pains, my grumbles.
By the time we fed, burped, diapered, the baby and packed his bag, 45 minutes had passed. In between all that activity, I found time to call a few clinics in the area to check if they administered the chicken pox vaccine. I was also very conscious of the fact that my husband was still waiting, so I quickly bundled my kid into the car and drove off.
And then it’s another whirlwind of activity getting dinner, getting jabbed and getting the kid to bed. By the time he fell asleep, I was too tired to care about anything else. My shoulders were aching so badly I was feeling nauseated from the pain. Sitting in the darkeness, I unwoubd by scrolling through Facebook while my child slept. That was when a Facebook link popped up on my screen about finding time to take care of oneself.
“Self-care is not selfish; it’s one of the best things you can do for your kids. Taking a break from family can cause guilt and anxiety in mothers and fathers alike. But a few hours away can re-energize you so you can get back to playing with Legos, making dinner and taking care of everyone else.”
And that was when I decided that I needed a little tender loving self-care too. Ever since I had my child, I have been so caught up in caring for him, on top of taking care of the house, that I had forgotten about myself. I can’t remember the last time I had a pedicure, my eyebrows were a mess, my roots have grown out past my ears. I look, and feel, like a total mess.
So taking baby steps, the next day I booked a 20 minute shoulder and back massage appointment at one of those China massage centers near my office during lunch. The masseuse commented that my muscles were all knotted up and spent and extraordinary amount of time on my shoulders before moving to my back. He kept telling me to relax. I told him I didn’t know how to. But it felt SO GOOD after that.
Then I rewarded myself with a steaming hot pot of kimchi stew. I love eating by myself. You eat at your own pace, you don’t have to talk to anyone. You basically do your own thing.
And my day slowly got better. That night, when my husband asked me how my day was, I thought about what I did, and I smiled and told him, “Today was a good day.”