When I was a young wife and mother, I never had to answer the question, “But what did you do all day?” You see, I married a man who appreciated having a wife who kept the house organized, who made the dinners, who took care of the kids.
And for most of the years of my young mommy life, I also worked. I juggled the pressures of a long commute, three young kids, and a teaching job. I shopped, I helped with homework, I took care of the various allergies and asthma needs.
Paul and I shared the home chores (after a few arguments and struggles, of course; he’s only human!). Sometimes I felt like they all took me for granted, and sometimes I got pretty damn cranky.
But most nights I dropped into my bed with a feeling of worth. I could always look back on my day and think about the hugs and kisses I’d given out, the meals I had cooked, the conversations I’d had with my precious kids. Most nights, I felt pretty damn good about myself as I drifted off to sleep.
Then the kids grew up, and moved away. My nest was empty.
But I still had my job. I still had my students, the children who needed my smiles and hugs and words of support. I still had the feeling each night that I had made a small difference in the world that day.
And now here I am. Retired before my time; forced out of the roles I loved. The kids grew up, which was in the natural order of things. And the expectations of my school changed so much that I was pushed right out the door, well before I was finished with my teaching life.
What do I do now?
I know, I know. In a couple of weeks I’ll be the full time day care provider for my granddaughter. I know myself well enough to know that as soon as that happens, my sense of self-worth will be restored. Loving and nurturing a child is the greatest job there is; I know that! I believe it, with all of my heart.
Still. Here is what makes me scratch my head and wonder.
Why, after having raised three healthy, happy children, do I still feel that I have not earned a time of rest? Why, after having taught and encouraged and diagnosed and treated hundreds of children, do I not feel that I have given enough back to the world?
Why do I feel, on a sunny Monday in October, that I have no right to simply sit down and read a good book?
I don’t know.
I can tell myself that I am good person, that I have made life better for a whole lot of people. I can tell myself that I have influenced the lives of so many children over all these years.
Its just that I don’t quite believe myself. I have to get up every single day and find a way to accomplish something. If not, I am restless, anxious, adrift.
But I make a list of chores to do every day. And if I cross things off my list: ah, then I feel that I have earned my time to myself. Did I shop? Did I clean out a closet? Paint a wall? Write a story?
Did I organize a drawer, take the dogs to the vet, write to Congress, pay the bills, can some applesauce, plant the bulbs, order Christmas gifts?
I know that all of these things are tasks that should be done. I know that doing most of them is simply a part of life.
What I don’t understand, though, is why I feel useless and unsuccessful on those days when there is nothing on the list. On days like that, I feel that I am unworthy of the afternoon nap. Undeserving of the time to read. On days like that, I make things up and put them on my “list”.
“Take morning medications.” “Walk dogs.” “Throw away all the old socks in our drawers.” “Repaint the garage doors.” “Find a cure for cancer.”
My list, on days like this, ranges from the mundane to the impossible. My logic in this endeavor is to include items that I can do automatically (“Take shower”) and therefore cross off the list. But I also always include items that no one would have foreseen, so that when I lay myself down to bed, I can tell myself, “Wow, you sure are a useful person.”
I wonder why I still don’t feel worthy of a day off?