It’s been a busy couple of weeks with my semester winding down and finals to survive. I had wanted to post this particular topic much earlier in the week, but sadly, just couldn’t find a spare few minutes to sit still and write it out. But, late is still better than never.
As a woman I often feel like the very things that set me apart from the opposite sex are the things I get crucified for. If I cry I’m too emotional. If I’m quiet when I need to think I’m cold or angry. If I’m strong then I don’t need a partner. If I’m weak then I’m needy. All of this leads to an extreme amount of confusion and guilt that I try very hard not to cave in to. I am me and I’m good with that.
But every once in a while, my own emotions catch me by surprise and confuse me even more. I’ll start with the most recent time (there are two that I want to cover here).
On Wednesday, I arrived home from work to find my little one sick with a fever. He was lethargic and generally miserable, with no apparent cause. I cuddled him, kept on him to drink water, and finally gave him some Tylenol to bring down his temperature. I don’t panic over these things but I don’t feel guilty for that, because I have such a large number of kids in my family that I know when to panic and when not to worry. But as 5:00pm rolled around, I started worrying. See, I have a spin class on Wednesdays. I paid for it. I didn’t want to miss it but at the same time, I felt like a bad mother for abandoning my little one when he was sick.
It’s not like I was going to leave him in the care of a stranger or someone incapable of cuddling him with the same amount of love I give him. He was staying with his Nana (my mother) and I would be home in an hour. But as I was settling him in and taking care of the last-minute details I suddenly felt like a horrible mother. Despite the fact that I knew he would be okay and well taken care of, despite knowing that he didn’t have anything serious, I felt terrible.
This ties back in to my habit of feeling guilty whenever I take time to myself but it was obviously amplified by the fact that my son wasn’t feeling well. A brief discussion with my mother reassured me that he would be fine, that she would call me if anything happened – no matter how small, and I left for class. Class is a whole three minutes away from home (five if I get caught at a red light) but I cringed the whole way there, because there was a small part of me that was really happy to not be missing it.
I fell into my usual groove at class and for a good half an hour I actually forgot about work, money, relationship problems, and … my sick little man, cuddling at home with his Nana, waiting for me to come back. As I walked back to my car my shoulders slumped and my drive home was a study in guilt and anxiety. But when I got home, my little one was passed out comfortably on the couch in his little diaper, his Nana diligently standing guard and rubbing his little back. His fever was coming down and he was just tuckered out now.
My heart lightened as I gathered him in my arms and he touched my face for a moment and whispered “Mommy… Hi Mommy” before sleepily burying his face in my shoulder and returning to a restorative slumber. The guilt washed out of me as I realized that part of being a mommy is being able to pick responsible caregivers for my child. I trust his father. I trust my mother. I trust my sister. These are the people who care for my little one the most often and I know that they have me covered if I have to work, study for school, or even just attend a fitness class I paid for in advance.
That night I read a news story about a woman who killed her 22 month old son for interrupting her Farmville game. I was horrified and saddened, but instantly glad that I’m the kind of mommy who feels guilty for leaving her ill son with a loving caregiver for a fitness class.
**As an aside for those of you wondering, my little one was back to his perfectly happy adorable self by the next morning.**
The other event I wanted to write about occurred a week ago. Having noticed that none of my workout pants were fitting properly anymore (and therefore no longer suited to working out in because they kept trying to fall off me when I run) I took my mother and the little one with me for a quick run to JC Penney last Thursday during our usually weekly errand run. I grabbed three new pairs of running pants, a couple new shirts, checked out and we left. My mother has mobility issues, so we had “rock star” (read: Handicapped) parking.
As we were walking to the car an elderly gentleman approached me from his van and asked me in a thickly accented voice “could you please give me a boost?” It took my brain a moment to process the scene… Me, my little one in my arms, my mother, this elderly gentleman standing next to a van with out-of-state license plates in the handicapped parking place next to us… Well, to put it simply, where I live I’m more accustomed to being approached by someone panhandling. Also, “boost” isn’t the commonly used term in my region.
Of course, once my brain (a little slow because Thursdays are my day off and I’m usually rushing around without thought) finally caught up I replied “Absolutely, of course!”
This elderly gentleman looked unbelievably appreciative as I got my mother and son settled in the car. He looked a little anxious as I backed my car out, but then relieved as I simply pulled in closer to his van so the cables would reach easily.
We fumbled for the hood release on my car – in my defense I’m not unversed in general vehicle maintenance, but my car is brand new and I’ve never had to pop the hood yet – got the jumper cables hooked up and his van started with very little fuss.
I smiled to his equally elderly wife, who remained seated in the van, as I closed the hood of my car. But as I tried to walk away I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder.
“Please,” he said as he stopped me, “For your time and trouble” as he tried to hand me four dollars that his wife had apparently fished out of her purse.
I was mortified. A kind deed should be its own reward. This couple was likely someone’s grandparents, I thought, as my mother and her grandson sat in my car.
“No, really, it was nothing. I’m glad I could help. Please, have a safe trip” I said as I held my hand up in a gesture of refusal.
It took a few minutes of assuring him that I wouldn’t accept his money, and then my mother refusing to take the money for my son through the window when he tried another angle, for him to realize that we really wouldn’t accept his money.
He said “thank you” one more time as we pulled out of the parking space, a look of gratitude on his face. I’m pretty sure it was that look that was my undoing because as we drove away I started crying. I simply couldn’t help it. The tears came out of nowhere and I’m still not quite sure of the cause. Was it that if that had been my grandmother (rest her soul) or even my mother, I would hope they would find someone to help that would refuse the little cash they had available? Was it simply tears of being glad I could help someone out? Was it the example I was setting for my child who, still too young to understand, that the deed is its own reward? Or was it that I suddenly thought “Oh dear, I hope I didn’t insult him by not taking his offer of compensation for my time!”
So there you have it. Women are emotional creatures. It is part of what makes us such appealing creatures. We’re emotional yet strong enough to endure almost anything. We’re loving but sometimes need time to process without being thought of as cold. We laugh when we should be crying and sometimes cry when we should smile. We have tough exteriors but are easily wounded. We’ll forgive easily but not trust without time and proof. And whether you realize it or not, we tend to feel guilty for taking time for ourselves, which is why we do it so rarely… Love us for these qualities and we’ll never fail you. But please, please, don’t say things like “you’re so emotional” like it’s a bad thing, because it makes us feel like there’s something wrong with us when really, it’s perfectly natural for us to be that way.