Last week, I painted our master bedroom. This may not seem like a giant feat. Coming from the person who just painted it, you are sorely mistaken. Our master bedroom is laughably large–I hate to call it a tremendous waste of space, but it’s kind of a tremendous waste of space. It runs the length of our house and features a bathroom with separate shower area, a desk cubby and sitting area, and vaulted ceilings. It is not the sort of space that a woman should paint by herself while continuing to run the roost. Which makes it just the sort of project I’m going to tackle.
I made it. Half one day, half another, bathroom the third. But by Thursday night, I tingled with exhaustion. I couldn’t focus on what people said to me. I couldn’t remember anything. Paint fumes surely had something to do with it, but the real truth was that I had given everything to that project, and I was absolutely empty.
The day I finished the bedroom, I was discussing dinner with the kids while driving them home from gymnastics and soccer. K began screaming at me, and my instinct was to explode. I single-handedly painted for four hours today, did five loads of laundry, changed all the sheets nad towels in the house, got two fillings, and shuttled you to your activities and you are complaining because you have to eat pasta with your homemade chicken parmigiana?
What she needed was patience. Energy. Except I was already on empty.
I run on empty a lot. I am constantly thinking, I can do this. This too. And this. Truly, at the time, I do have enough gas to get them done. Paint the room, clean the bathrooms, etc., etc. I feel guilty tending myself while everyone is off working, so I work too. But that’s where I’m missing the point. We have chosen for me to stay at home because everyone is off working. The kids are toughing it out at school and B is bearing the burden of being the sole breadwinner. They dole out so much energy on these places that they come home and need to be filled up. And guess who’s there to fill them up?
“What are you doing with all your free time?” My father-in-law asked me that shortly after the kids started school, and my immediate response, feeling self-conscious and judged, was “Not enough.” I want to have something to be proud of, something to point to at the end of my day that says I earned my keep. But then I have an encounter with K like the one above and realize that they need my energy. They do not need me to have spent it all earlier in the day. If that were the case, I might as well be working outside the home. At least then we’d have money to pay someone to energize us all.
Instead, what I need to realize is that at least some of my free time must go to filling myself up, as frivolous as that sounds. I only have so much gas in that tank, and no one–not me, nor the rest of the family–can run on fumes. Of course, filling myself up looks different by the day. Some days, yes, there are projects that need to get done. And some days, filling up can be cleaning up the house or yard so that I feel at peace. But the house, yard, or anything else will never be perfect. I can spend myself out every day trying. And though I’m tingling with exhaustion, the real people who suffer are my family, because I can’t give them the one thing that they need.
The next time my father-in-law, or anyone else, asks, I hope that I can take a deep breath and say, “Filling myself up.” It’s so hard for me to say that, but in truth, there’s nothing more important than being able to support my family, not even my pride. And truly, in supporting myself, I’m actually doing more to support the rest of the family than when I spend all my energy supporting my own self-worth. That‘s something to be proud of.