Because I'm the Mom

How mothering pervades all relationships in life.

"What are you doing to take care of yourself?" Anybody know why it takes a deep loss to force a Mom to ask herself that question?

Can loss clarify the mystery of self care

I still don't know how to answer, and yet it is the first question everybody asks when they hear I've lost my brother.
What AM I doing to take care of myself? I never know what to say.

Therapy. Lots of therapy.
School shopping.
Not doing stuff I hate.
Avoiding everybody.
Saying no.

As a working mother, I've been putting the oxygen mask on somebody else for so long I am struck dumb, utterly silenced, by this apparently essential question. Why is that? Why don't I remember how to take care of myself? Why are there no clear answers?

After 200 or so awkward moments after this question is asked, I started thinking about when it was that I actually knew how to take care of myself well. I was in my 20s, not so long ago. I was single. And then I wasn't. And then I had a baby, and nobody asked me then what I was doing to take care of myself. THAT is the time we should be taking the MOST care of ourselves. There's a basket you get from the hospital after having a baby. It's festive, full of washcloths, receiving blankets, diapers, wipes, pamphlets on breastfeeding and (alas) samples of formula. But nothing in it says: FIRST THINGS FIRST: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.

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When you bring the baby home, nobody asks if you're taking care of yourself. They ask how long it's been since you've slept, or they inquire about nipple soreness and how's the baby latching, but that's about as close as it gets.

And then the question sits dormant in some deep pit of your brain for, well, I thought for longer than this. And then something horrifying happens, like you get cancer at 33 or your beloved younger brother gets swiped off the earth out of nowhere and you are laid bare. And then, all of a sudden, everybody wants to know, demands to know, what you're doing to take care of yourself. And you're like, um, what does that even mean?

So I have come up with the answer. It's true. It's accurate, and it moves the conversation along. I run for an hour every single morning. I run slow, and I cry hard.

I guess it's a start.

Pamela Cytrynbaum teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.


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