“You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” This was the sentence that cropped up on a meme on my Facebook feed the other night, as I was searching for a recipe I’d seen earlier which promised to use up a good portion of the lemons my husband keeps bringing home in supermarket bags from his grandmother’s house. I had been editing a blog post when I remembered about the recipe, so flipped over to Facebook to try to find it. At the same time, I was holding a teething baby on my lap, letting her gnaw on my fingers while I typed with the other hand. And did I mention the basket of clean laundry sitting in front of my laptop, waiting its turn to be folded and put away?
The friend who had posted this thought-proviking meme is a yoga aficionado who is always going on retreats to peaceful places and posting photos of herself sun-saluting next to sparkling oceans. She’s also a mum of two kids, and works outside the home part-time. She’s genuine and wise, and she’s good at something I’m not: Self-care. She prioritises it, makes it part of her daily routine, puts it ahead of chores and carves out space for it no matter what else is going on in her life. I’ve known her for 20 years and she’s always been like this. She learned the secret of self-care early on.
I write about her with not jealousy, but with awe: How does she manage it? Some days I can’t even find the time to brush my hair (although I always, always brush my teeth), let alone take an hour for yoga practise. So I thought I’d ask her.
I called her up while balancing my teething baby on one hip, with the phone tucked under my chin, folding the laundry with my other hand.
“You seem really good at self-care,” I said to her. “What’s your secret? How do you make it happen with the kids and working and everything else you have going on?”
When she answered, it was with certainty and determination. “I don’t apologise for it.”
She went on to explain. As women, we’re always apologising for things — it’s almost second-nature. We apologise when someone else bumps into us on the footpath: “Oh, sorry!” we say. We apologise when we have to hand over a $20 note to pay for a $2 item. We apologise when we’re at a restaurant and the server brings us the wrong meal. We apologise when we knock on the boss’s door at the office to ask a question. We apologise when we return a faulty appliance, or when we have a coupon to use at the supermarket, or when we’re juggling a teething baby who doesn’t want to be handed over to a well-meaning friend for a cuddle. We apologise for needing time out, to refresh ourselves and recharge our batteries. We apologise, it sometimes seems, for our very existence.
And every day, my friend told me, she makes a conscious decision to apologise only about things for which she’s actually at fault. And an extension of that is to honour the space she requires in this world: The space she needs and deserves. This is where self-care comes in. She knows that she requires time to focus on herself and her health and wellbeing, and for her, it’s not a question, it’s an absolute. So she does it. No apologies.
She knows the truth of the sentence “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” And instead of beating herself up for not being able to do All The Things, All The Time, she thoughtfully chooses what she is capable of, and she recalibrates her life so that self-care is an integral part of those things she’s capable of.
I’m not yet sure how I’m going to do it, but I want to stop apologising for needing and wanting and desiring and deserving time and space and energy for self-care. Starting today.
I just need to rescue my sore fingers from the mouth of the teething baby first.