A few weeks ago, a friend wrote the following in an email to me:
I do not understand, even a little bit at all, how you survive being sick when you're a mom. It has to have something to do with the hormones in your brain that keep you from eating your young or leaving them exposed on a mountain top somewhere, because I just cannot imagine being miserable and filled with snot and unable to stop coughing and being nice and loving and caring and maternal at the same time.
She had recently been sick, the kind of sick that you totally know is not going to kill you, not even worth calling a doctor over, but which still sucks balls for a few days, to the extent that you feel like you must apologize to those who came in direct contact with you during that time.
I know this because I was recently this sick. Like, yesterday. By the time Halloween was over, I felt weak and like my whole body had been beaten by someone with untiring fists of fury. I slept like the dead all night, forcing poor Tony to get up with the baby when he cried (he still wakes up once or twice at night, or sometimes for an hour or two, it’s awful, I don’t want to talk about it anymore) and barely rolling out of bed when it was obvious that I had to get moving to get everyone to school and work on time. I got to the office, did payroll, paid bills, and then found myself staring at my computer screen as it swam in front of me. My whole head felt like a helium balloon – large and floaty and not at all capable of compiling the monthly financials for the business. I went home at 10:30 am and slept the rest of the day.
At 3:30 pm I faced a conundrum: what do I do about the kids? On any other day I would have called Tony and told him that I had spent the day in bed, that I was in no shape to enrich the young minds of my children through guided play, much less feed and water them in a minimal effort of mothering, but Tony was slated to speak that evening at WWU’s Accounting Club in Bellingham (*cough* *cough* Nerds!) and thus, would not be home before 9 pm. Also, yesterday was a Baby Boot Camp day.
I have a problem, and I know it. It is two-fold: the first part is that I have a horrible self-image and I am worried that if I skip one workout, I will be on a path to gain more weight, not lose the weight I have left to lose. The second part is that I am acutely aware of what I spend money on and if I elect to miss a class, it’s like losing that money.
Let’s talk about thing the first. I am not fat. I know this, I really do. Except that I don’t, not at all. What I know is that when I wake up in the morning and stand in front of the mirror in my underwear (for two seconds before a snot-nosed, half-dressed little boy or two careens into the room to tackle me), I honestly like what I see and I think I look pretty good. Then I put on clothes and eat food and drink water and I sit down and my stomach spills over the waistband of my jeans and I see friends who are in fantastic shape without an ounce of fat on their bodies and who certainly aren’t comically pear-shaped and I get sad about myself. I finally fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans, but not quite like I did before, and the whole picture would be helped if I just lost another five pounds. But I would really like to not lose those five pounds in my boobs because there’s not much left there after feeding those two kids from my body for 14 months each. I have good bras, but I do feel like I’m living a lie in the chest department.
So I go to Baby Boot Camp three times a week and I try to run when I get a chance and the weather isn’t threatening to wash me away and I worry that if I skip either of these activities, the razor-thin wire I’m balancing on between “fitting into my clothes in a way that is a little too tight and not fantastic but certainly not so horrendous that I refuse to go outside” and “sizing up” will disappear and I’ll be thunked solidly into “overweight” again.
Is this logical? No, of course not. Skipping one class to recoup from a cold will not cause me to gain 5 pounds. Or will it? I’m barely maintaining right now, who knows what one day could do? And I’m already skipping a day next week for Charles’ birthday and I skipped a day last week for an evening event, so, oh God, I could be down to two days a week! A recipe for a larger Amelia, for sure.
Thing the second: ever since I figured out what each class, per hour, cost me at Whitman ($80!) and realized that not going to my classes was like losing that money, I have been trapped in this “get my money’s worth” mindset. If I pay for it, I go. If I buy it, I wear it. Or eat it. I HATE waste, for the simple fact that it is like taking money from my bank account and throwing it away. This same principle defines my interactions with my husband when I make a mistake. Let’s say I purchase something in error. I feel like I should “pay” for my mistake to the tune of the cost of the item in question. Unfortunately, since all the money I make goes into the family pot to cover bills anyway, paying for my mistake usually means depriving myself of something I would have loved to buy with whatever extra we have per month. A(nother) bottle of wine. Some (more) yummy cheese. New shoes or new lotion or some such, until I feel like I have adequately made up for my error.
This is a bad habit/mindset/perspective, but I can’t stop. My remorse over my screw-ups manifests itself by me punishing myself. Suggestions for how to let myself off the hook are appreciated, but comments like, “cut yourself some slack – you’re only human!” have no effect because I sure as hell don’t see anyone else screwing up like I do. When you make mistakes at the rate I do, mistakes that cost the family money, well, someone has to be punished, and that person is me. I should try to be less dumb, but that hasn’t worked so far. You can’t will yourself into behaving less like an idiot.
So, back to the sickness. I decided, probably against all advice I would have gotten had I sought any, to change into workout gear, pick up the kids, and go to Baby Boot Camp. I downed some orange juice and a spoonful of peanut butter, loaded the jogging stroller in the car, and told myself to keep it together long enough to drive to daycare and then the mall (driving while sick with a headcold is also on the not-recommended list). I chased the boys through the Children’s Museum for a half hour and then sweated out the virus for an hour. We came home, made dinner, did bath, and thank the good Lord, the boys were angels and went to bed without fuss or fight. Feeling much better, I curled up on the couch with my book and waited for Tony to get home. I’m not totally better this morning, but my head isn’t swimming anymore. More like I’m just a mucus factory now.
So that’s how you do it. That’s how you refrain from leaving your children on a mountaintop when you’re achy and snotty and you just want to lie in bed and have someone bring you tea and Kleenex. You power through and recognize that no is going to rescue you. No one is going to bring you tea and Kleenex and you certainly aren’t going to be allowed to sleep. So you distract yourself.
Also, I think the kids have a magical radar that tells them when it’s a bad time to push mom’s buttons. And so they were angels yesterday. Angels.