So how was my day off?
Delightful. Short. Enlightening.
My plan was to go downtown and stroll around a fancy new mall that just opened. But by the time I got away ("We'll talk abou it tomorrow!" "Ask Dad!" "I'll help you with that tomorrow!" "Don't make your sister cry!"), it was late in the afternoon and I was starving. The mall is just across the street from Mark's office, so I called him and proposed a little dinner date. Mark said he would meet me in ten minutes. So I did a bit of window shopping while I waited. (Forever21 appears to contain the exact same clothing and the exact same people it did when I trawled the Silverdale Mall in 1988. The only difference: The amazingly well-coiffed young gay men manning all the registers.)
So about forty-five minutes into my trip, I was walking across the courtyard to meet Mark, and that's when I noticed. I felt different. I could feel it in my face. Mark could see it. He said almost immediately, "You look different already."
I'm not going to admit that I'm never happy or cheerful. I'm sure I smile sometimes. But I realized that my face had been permafrosted in a grimace of tension, worry, and stress. It's my climbing Mount Everest face. I've been spending way too much time in grit-your-teeth-and-endure mode. Which is an important mode to have. But I think last week I had developed some version of PTSD, where I was constantly feeling the tension, even when I could have been watching a baby play in the sunlight.
I had thought I'd spend my day off reassessing my life strategies. But really, as I let the quiet and peace settle around me, my strongest thought was, "Why do I do this so seldom?" Maybe not the hotel room part. But the driving away from the house part. The doing something that lifts the tension part.
The reason I don't is that I don't want to fall victim to the Woman Constantly Treating Herself for Once syndrome. But the truth is, I'm not that woman.
When I'm very pregnant, I try not to be a huge whiner. Try not to bail, abscond, or divest my responsibilities too much. Which is a good thing. But then when I'm not pregnant, I always look back and think, "Good heavens, Angela, you should have cut yourself a break!"
I'm starting to think that that's how I'll feel about this phase of my life. I'm not carrying a twenty-pound watermelon strapped to my torso, but I am the mother of six children. I like to think that Betsy has integrated effortlessly into our family, and caring for her is indeed sweet as pie. But it's not nothing. And meanwhile, each of the other kids is needy in their own way. The truth is, things are very intense around here right now. These are the happy truths of my full, blessed life. It makes me sick to think that the kids and I will remember me during this time with that awful, tense face.
I'm grateful that I'm not a person who gives up when the going gets rough. But I need to stop judging myself as weak when I need respite. This week, I'm working on lifting my face. On not letting myself settle into that expression of stinginess. It's a reminder to myself to enjoy, to relax, and to let some things slide.
And next time I feel permafrost face creeping in, I'm taking a break.