Confession: the word self-care makes me squirm. Not because it’s bad (it’s wonderful) but because it reads as slightly sentimental to me. To care for the self is a beautiful thing, but I feel embarrassed to phrase it with a millennial buzzword. It reminds me of when my yoga teacher has us hug ourselves at the end of the class and I’m like lady… c’mon. As the students around me embrace themselves in a cathartic sigh-hug I am think-shouting, "have you no shame people?” The dude in the corner and I give ourselves a quick, respectful tap-hug and move the hell on. Of course this says more about me than the hug.
I’ve tried some skin routines. Various activities alone like reading at a coffee shop into the night, which is fantastic. It’s all nice. I buy myself perfume and it definitely makes me feel like I matter to myself. The woman that I am — not the mother or wife, daughter or friend. The person who picks out the lingerie, who favors red-orange lipstick over magenta hues and who took a painting class this summer because dammit I have to do something low-pressure and unnecessary every once in a while. But the dynamics around this woman have changed mightily in the past five years. Birth into motherhood will do that to ya.
So the phrase I’ve come to like and center with regard to caring for the inner woman is self-advocacy. Self-care feels like making sure I’m well cared for, which I could grow in as well. I’m a solid 50/50 in most areas, like I work out every day but struggle with the same emotional eating problem many kids-of-immigrants do: food = love. The difference between care and advocacy to me is the ability to protect my boundaries. Said another way — my values. Ensuring a seat at the family table for these has had every effect that self-care promises. Refreshment. A sense of feeling grounded. Self-respect. Pain old joy. It is a new and learned skill for me.
Knowing what I like isn’t new. Knowing my boundaries isn’t either. But communicating calmly and clearly about it is, to my people but firstly to myself. Acceptance without feeling small and guilty. It’s a new and glorious territory and it feels like womanhood to me. An example? Opting for non-traditional holidays like a hike and takeout for Thanksgiving with a $100 bottle of wine. This feels right to me this year. I can proceed on that basis, shelving the noise that so easily fills my mind about what I’m supposed to do and be. I need to create one of those line graphs that says, “Is this noise?” If yes then ignore it and move forward. If no then listen to it and adjust. Simple enough in theory.
These photos were taken on a day trip to West Fork Trail in Flagstaff, AZ. Although we know the one and only rule for day trip success with kids (go to bed early and wake up early) we never, ever put it into practice. Instead we wake up too late, I spend an unnecessary amount of time getting ready, Matt starts a to-do list at the last minute (like clipping his nails?!) and we get out the door at about 10am, arriving in time for two hungry children to unravel. However! The magic powers of nature always transform the girls into two focused, happy nymphs capable of playing past their nap times. Oh the rocks we threw. The trails they explored on their own, unhindered. The sticks, the leaves, the dirt on wet feet. The wading in perfect-temperature streams on an 80 degree day.
How does this relate to self-advocacy? Maybe it doesn’t. Or maybe this is the most important act of self-care (eh) I do for myself in this stage. Being outside with film camera in hand despite precarious funds and the disproportionate work it takes to achieve. A day’s full of commuting, gas-station stops, snacks ad infinitum and emotional toddler instability in exchange for about 4 hours of this. But the this! Nothing can replace it. Self-advocacy says without guilt: I recognize my need to feel the sun on my skin, hear the crunch of desert paths under my feet and be released from “the tyranny of eternal routine” as one writer put it.
I recently did an exercise in Diane Pool Heller’s audiobook Healing Your Attachment Wounds. Attachment is something Matt and I have studied and explored a lot over the years because frankly, we have needed it. We found this exercise illuminating for different reasons. Without transcribing it word for word, the author leads you through this hypothetical: imagine your mother while you were growing up, and imagine her dominant mood. Now imagine her surrounded by the resources she needed. Wise friends, a loving partner, faithful spiritual teachers, a thriving expression of her purpose, a strong body. She is fully supported and held, and takes responsibility for maintaining those supports. Now observe how you feel.
I got two things from this exercise. Number one was how it gave me a deeply somatic, embodied compassion toward my mother’s anger growing up. She was dealing with an abusive, alcoholic husband and didn’t yet have the boundary-drawing skills she would later learn. She had some support, but didn’t know how to maintain or expand it. In short: she didn’t yet understand how to self-advocate. Secondly, the lesson that shined forth bright as day was this: as I advocate for myself, my daughters are released. They don’t have to fill in the gaps (small or large) where I lack fulfillment and meaning. They are free to self-advocate for themselves as they grow without having to consider whether that will untether or disorient me. Mic drop.
All of this is represents the ideal. Today they are two and four. Today they demand “mama hold you!” when they need their needs met. I teach them to care for their bodies little by little, tooth-brushing by tooth-brushing. As I learn the discipline myself, I hope to teach them how to both care and advocate. That no human relationship (spouse, pastor, parent, friend, teacher) can replace that role. I am learning how to speak for the person deep within myself like she’s my deaf and mute and deeply loved child. I can say “this is what is needed right now” because I know her nature. I am learning to say the hardest thing of all: “this is acceptable, and this is not.” I will care for you. I will advocate for you. Which is another way of saying fight. Which is another way of saying love.
These photos were shot with 35mm Psychedelic Blues Film on my Canon Sure Shot point and shoot. I’ve been curious about this film for a long time! Although 99% of users seek it for it’s colors, I knew right away that I wanted to shoot then desaturate. The pre-exposed light leaks feel like a dream to me. Like remembering. It’s so hard for me to hold onto the warmth of my memories; it’s like water in my cupped hands. So I am ever-seeking mediums that allow me to capture that feeling in visual form. When I see my pictures, I remember.
Although I was feeling cocky about the Sure Shot since I got it over the summer, rolls like this remind me that this ain’t no SLR baby. I’m starting to want more control again, specifically of exposure. However nothing beats the size and shape of the compact camera. So a high-end compact has now moved from Eyeing One to Needing One. Those never-ending lists.