I am leaving to spend two days in Santa Barbara for my birthday. It is 1:20 am and I am up writing because I couldn’t sleep despite being ridiculously tired. Clearly I have something on my mind that is not going to give me peace until I write about it, get it out and then perhaps I will be allowed to return to slumber.
So what’s eating at me?
I am struggling with selfishness and selflessness. This is not a new dilemma for me. I think I have been grappling with it for as long as I can remember. When you are raised an only child there are certain refrains that are coming in your world:
You are/were spoiled
You are/were selfish
I was. Not all the way to bratdom but I was spoiled in the sense that there were always enough parental resources to go around. I didn’t not have to vie for my parents time or attention or finances. There was always enough. In fact, as a teen I would have told you that they needed to get out more. Pay a little less attention to me. I was not entitled or demanding, I didn’t have to be because, for the most part, I got what I needed when I needed it. My childhood privileged and full of everything any one could ask for. I was loved, wanted, cared for, spoiled but not too spoiled. I had responsibilities, chores and got an allowance. The responsibilities were more than a lot of my friends but less than others, the chores the same. The allowance came in a good number but I had a shit ton of work to do to get it. I feel like for the most part, I was lucky and treated better than most. So yes, I was spoiled.
Now for selfish.
I think this one is the one that fucked me up the most. Parents of only children are most worried about this trait. They look for it and often see it even when it isn’t there. My parents were no different. My dad, in particular, would give me a lot and then psychically level the playing field for making me feel like shit for having it. This resulted (on more than one occasion) of me removing all of the evidence of my spoiledness (stereo, TV, phone) from my room and leaving it on his bed. The ultimate fuck you - “You can have it all back because I don’t need it or want it”. It always worked, in short order I would have my prized items back and he would feel like I got the message.
But what was the message? I think the lesson he was trying to impart was to have me realize how lucky I was. But I already knew that. All I had to do was look around at my friend’s and their families and I knew that I was very, very lucky. So message received...however, I got another message - feel guilty for having anything at all, be concerned about having too much - so much so that I would feel like giving it all away. I would feel selfish.
Selfishness became this thing that I wanted to avoid at all costs. Even the appearance of being selfish caused me to have a panic attack. For me, there was nothing worse than being labeled selfish. My focus became very outwardly focused and everything I did or said had this internal inventory process as to whether or not what I wanted, thought or did was selfish. If I decided that whatever it was that I wanted, thought or acted was selfish, I would take swift and immediate action to right it over to the selfless side of things. This meant that I spent a lot of my youth giving stuff away, buying people things instead of attending to my own needs and largely being disconnected from myself. I did this to the exclusion of meeting my own needs or even taking the time to figure out what those needs might be.
I became like a vulture perched on the metaphorical phone pole, waiting for carrion to appear on the highway...except for me the carcass was any act, thought or belief that I labeled selfish.
Now, I do not believe that this was the message I was supposed to receive or even the one that was sent. This was just what I did with a message I received or at least thought I received.
I will own that this constant examination of my motives, thoughts and deeds for any trace of selfishness kind of fucked up my world. Because if I labeled anything selfish, then it was off the table. And if the examination came too late, then immediate corrective action would be deployed to counterbalance my universe.
So I have done a lot of really good stuff for a lot of people throughout my life which is nice. But it was a reaction, not really ever a truly selfless act. In fact, I have come to realize that my need to be hypervigilant about any self directed energy made me the most self centered person after all. I thought about myself all the time, it wasn’t usually good but I still was the most important thing I thought about day in and day out.
Realizing the above, has made my reformation to just a person who is sometimes selfless and sometimes selfish (like every other person walking around on the planet) a lot easier.
However, there are still times I struggle....
Which brings me to today.
In my life long struggle to achieve stabilize my actions that are me directed versus other directed, I attempted again to level this scale for parity and equilibrium. Today I was going to take my kids with me to Santa Barbara to stay in a nice hotel for my birthday. I would stay two nights, have the kids come one night and then have my actual birthday night to myself. This seemed logical, reasonable, fair and the perfect steadiness between selfish and selfless. Lovely, perfect, fine...
However, it was not authentic or honest. Truth be told, I haven’t had a meaningful (read longer than a few stolen hours) to myself and off of parental responsibility since June. The last time my kids were away was the middle of June and that was for 10 days. This would add the grand total of time that I have gotten to not be a single parent to about 15 days for 2019. Now I have taken off for business trips that gave me a short reprieve but I am not really going to count going away for work as down time. I think that is fair and realistic - it is really just trading stressors while making other stressors worse. I am also not counting the very short visits where my ex-husband has come to town and stayed with me and mildly alleviated my child duties. I think having to stay under one roof with someone you used to be married to means that you kind of break even on the whole respite front. Sometimes, (and often in my case) you end up worse than you started.
So, I find myself at the end of November and I am tired. I feel drained. It has been an exciting but draining year. I have killed it at work which is great but comes with a cost to all of my relationships. I have done a less stellar job at parenting without being an asshole but nevertheless I have showed up every fucking day and tried. Tried to be a good parent, love them, show them how much I love them and kick them in the ass because they need it. I have tried to rule with a velvet glove over my iron fist.
I hit a wall yesterday. I realized that what I wanted and needed more than anything was to go away and be alone. Just take myself to a nice hotel room, order room service and be me. That as much as I love those kids (and I really fucking do) I needed to spend this momentus birthday doing what I wanted, when I wanted to. It was hard to admit even to myself and incredibly hard for me to ask for it from my family.
However, my son helped me yesterday get to the bottom of this still very murky issue in my life quite quickly. He made it all about him. Who was going to go, what we were going to do, when we would leave. He made it clear that he would be in charge of all the details and I would be completely lost within those same details. I would get my one day off but I would pay for that freedom dearly the day before.
After I got done resenting the fuck out of him, I realized he was doing me a favor. He was giving me foresight to see in advance the scenario I most wanted to avoid...acting like a selfish ass. Through his demands and actions, I got a preview of what that 36 hours would look like and I realized (the kind of realization that comes as a 2x4 upside the head) that selfishness be damned, I needed a fucking break.
And then I did something very hard for me to do. I asked for the break from the people that could actually provide me some relief. I asked my mom to watch the kids two nights, not just one. I asked my nanny to help my mom. I asked my daughter for her consent to take this time for myself and explained why I needed the time. I asked my son for forgiveness for letting him down. And guess what? They all said yes. They all heard me. They all said ok, take the time.
I still don’t feel completely right about taking the extra day and choosing to spend my day alone rather than with my kids and parents. I still feel that I am asking for something I don’t deserve. But I am in touch with the almost desperate need that I feel. This need to just be alone with myself and my thoughts and reconnect with what I desire, want and need. I love them all but I need a little time away to reconnect to the joy I feel in my relation to them instead of just feeling wrung out, tired and bitchy.
I feel selfish. I feel like I am asking for something that I shouldn’t. But this time, I realize that regardless of who labels me a selfish ass (my ex-husband surely will) I have to pick me. Because the consequences we will all pay if I don’t could be dire. Even if it didn’t result in dire, it would result in me being the less than the ideal version of myself.
So it is with great guilt, some remorse and a little excitement that I retreat to Santa Barbara to round out my 50th year of my life. Selfish maybe. I am going to take the leap and just call it self care. I think at 50 I should know the difference.