There's a woman I often see at work, I don't know her really, but I happen to know she is the mother of two small kids. She is always wearing the same, seemingly inexplicable outfit: A hooded sweatshirt of some kind, a pair of black dress pants, and black dress sandals, even in winter. Her hair is always in a ponytail, with bits of it sticking out and to her face. Holly B.C. (Before Children) would have looked at this woman with pity and condescension and reassured herself that even if she ended up with 12 children, she would still find a way to at least wear seasonally appropriate shoes. The present-day version of myself needs no explanation. The sweatshirt and pants are the only thing in her wardrobe that still fits her since having kids, and she has no time to buy more clothes. When she puts them on in the morning, she probably congratulates herself that they aren't maternity clothes. The ponytail is a no brainer. She probably hasn't showered in days and wouldn't recognize a blow dryer if it was dropped into her bath tub. The sandals, well, those are a bit more mysterious to me, since my feet are always cold, but I imagine that she had her first child in summer and has simply lost track of the time. Still, I would at least wear them with socks.
Objectively speaking, I can tell you this woman looks like crap, she is a fashion armageddon. But I am in no position to judge, as I am definitely sliding in her direction. In fact, I'm kind of in awe, and wonder how I, too, can get to the point where I care that little about my own appearance, because it would probably add a good 20 minutes a day to my free time, of which I have exactly 69 minutes per week. Think of what I could do with that kind of increase, maybe cure a disease. Or launder my sheets. Or both. It would be a revolution.
When you have one child, there are things that go by the wayside. You probably aren't getting 12 hours sleep a night and reading Tolstoy in Russian for fun. But when you have your second child, well, then you have to make some really tough decisions regarding your use of time. You start having to choose among what I call the Six "S"s: Sleep, Showering, Sanitation, Style, Smarts, Shape. There is also a seventh "S," but we're not going to go there, as my mother reads this blog, and my husband edits this blog with an eye towards his eventual presidential run. We'll keep it clean. Well, as clean as we can without Showering and Sanitation, those aren't priorities for me. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
So, yes, the 6 (or 7) "S"s are things that people who are not mothers consider basic human needs. Everyone needs to sleep a decent amount, shower regularly, keep their house somewhat sanitary, present themselves to the world in a positive light with clothes that at least do not scream another decade, use one's brain on a regular basis for something other than keeping track of Jennifer Aniston's dating life, and not be obese. Doing these things for oneself is not to spoil oneself. It's ground-level treating oneself with a modicum of respect. The problem is that doing all this is a full-time job, and when you are also in charge of someone else's "S"s, something has got to go. And that something is the mother's rights as a human being. Anyone who thinks that Americans do not torture other Americans has not heard Charlotte whimper and moan for 39 minutes straight because no one is playing with her. She apparently is unconcerned that she is in violation of a UN convention.
Moms only have time to tend to a couple basic needs, so you have to choose carefully. There is not a mom anywhere who can 100% fulfill all the S needs. She may try to convince you she does, but she is either a dirty liar or mentally ill. I do know one mom who comes close--she even washes her sheets and towels twice a week, which I would not do even if I had servants to do every other thing in my entire life--but I am not convinced she is actually human. I'm thinking at the very least she does not sleep. Sleep is a real time hog, so if you can do without it, you are really going to come out ahead. My problem is that if I get less than 8 hours on a regular basis, I begin to cry uncontrollably and declare that "I can't go on!" every time Lawson vomits on me, which is like 10 times a day. Not really functional.
So sleep is number 1 for me. After that, I've got to go with Smarts, or mental stimulation. That's why I am writing this blog entry instead of taking my first shower in 3 days. It is easier to quickly rectify years of personal hygiene negligence (although I have seem some eyebrows that would require some real sweat equity to address) than years of mental disuse. I don't want to wake up in 20 years and realize I have the brains and wit of a cucumber, or worse, a celebrity. After that, I've got to go with Sanitation, because the cleanliness of my house affects everyone who lives in the house. Then again, the only people that see my house are those whom I let in, vs. the entire world out there who sees me going unwashed and looking like a walking bin of fashions rejected by Goodwill. Still Sanitation is ahead of Showering and Style. Dead last is Shape, because I hate exercise regardless of child-rearing, and even when childless I prioritized it right behind cleaning the scum off my electric toothbrush. As it is, I feel my life is a workout, I am in constant motion, though not one that will apparently prevent my butt from sliding down the back of my thighs. I plan to retrieve it someday, but not until both my kids can walk unassisted (and Charlotte can breathe unassisted). Until then, I am too tired to care. Every woman may categorize things differently, and it's not my job to judge. Sarah Palin, for instance, obviously puts Style, Shape, and Showering ahead of Smarts, because she looks great but thinks Africa is one country and can't tell you why there are two Koreas. I'm not going to judge. I'm also not going to vote for her ever again, but I'm not going to judge.
When jesus said, "Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it," he might have been talking about parenting. Because if, as a mom in particular, you devote yourself to preserving your own life and meeting your own needs, well, Child Protective Services will come and lock you up. But if you just accept that you are pretty much a slave now, you have forfeited your basic civil liberties to some tiny but militant dictators, then you'll be much happier.
In other words, just let yourself go.