(November 21, 2005) Hear the audio version

Last Sunday I did something unusual for me, the mother of the house. I took care of myself. This is how it happened: the night before I’d been suddenly stricken with a nasty ailment. When I crawled into bed I felt like a cartoon character at the North Pole: my teeth would not stop chattering. Every bone and muscle ached. I lay awake most of the night, shivering and listening to the transistor radio under my pillow.

So on Sunday I dozed on the couch while meals were prepared and eaten. I missed my volunteer stint at the bookstore. My husband took our teenage daughter to her soccer game. She had an assist on the winning goal without my cheering her on. The dog didn’t go nuts without his daily walk. In short, my family and the community carried on quite nicely without me.

I’m not used to putting myself first. I’m the mom, after all, who knows best how to toast the bread, who keeps track of orthodontist appointments and the whereabouts of P.E. clothes and wake-up times and how to put on the dog’s new collar. Like so many mothers, I consider myself indispensable, even though: a) I am not; and b) my husband is perfectly able – and willing – to take on the tasks I always assume for myself. Some feminist! I’m acting like it’s 1955, not 2005. And as an active member of the sandwich generation, I also help take care of my parents. So when I was in charge of their move to a retirement home in August, I thought I didn’t have time to be sick and delayed going to the doctor until I required massive doses of antibiotics, two days in the hospital, and weeks of recovery before I felt like myself again.

Too bad it took a hospital stay to make me change my ways. It was only then that I realized I’d been setting a pretty poor example for my daughters by always putting everyone else’s needs far ahead of mine. But it’s hard to overcome the instincts I swear are imbedded on that second X chromosome. I’m still learning. That day on the couch, though, was precisely what I needed. By Monday I was able to get up and make my daughter’s chai tea just as she likes it. My husband fixed her breakfast and lunch.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.