My husband looked at me and said: “Why do you have to be terribly sick in order to agree to get more rest?”
My instant response: “I’m not TERRIBLY sick. I’m just sick.”
You see what I did there; so did he. The exact degree of my sickness was nowhere near the point he was trying to make.
I hadn’t gotten enough sleep for nearly a week. The reasons were many, and several of those were far out of my control, but the result was a very tired, and increasingly grumpy, and now coughing and sneezing, me.
The most interesting thing happened on Day 6 or so of not enough sleep. I was so tired, and so tired of being tired, that I began simply stating what I needed people to do in short declarative sentences, making all necessary executive decisions quickly and easily and laying out the necessary procedures for all parties involved. As an example, my dear husband asked if we should all go out to lunch after church on Sunday. Rather than trying to find a way to accommodate that idea as I usually would, I simply said: “No. You need to take the kids home now. I’m singing with the choir in the second service. You get them lunch. I’ll be home after that to eat and then go to the gig I have this afternoon.” Rather than debating or hemming and hawing because I knew the kids would rather we all eat out, I just laid out what needed to be done. And it wasn’t the only time I did it that day. My music partner also got a list of instructions. My wonderful sister, with whom we were singing, got a clear answer about my needing a few minutes before singing once we arrived.
So what happened? Did my husband find me bossy? Maybe, but he didn’t mention it. He said… are you ready for it… “Okay, sounds good.” EVERYBODY said: “Okay, sounds good.”
For those of you who regularly simply lay out what you want and need, this kind of conversation sounds pretty mundane, pretty run of the mill, but I know there are others of you out there… others of you who have to be pushed to the brink to claim your space, to state your needs, to claim your rest from having to worry about what everyone else wants all the time.
As a Mom of two vibrant 9 year olds, it should be clear to me by now that there is simply no way to satisfy everyone. In fact, even IF I sacrifice my own desires/agenda/needs, one of the other three parties benefiting from that sacrifice is STILL likely to be unhappy. And you know what they do when that happens? They tell me about it. They tell me when something upsets them. They tell me when they need help. They tell me when they’re hungry, and (usually) gently tell me when some dinner I’ve prepared is not their favorite. They claim their space. They claim their preferences. They claim their right to be themselves and to have wants and needs with every declaration.
And I, apparently, must be pushed to the brink to do so. I’m not sure when this became true. I’m not sure when I stopped flexing that muscle. Maybe it was when my truth telling made my social and familial life a little more complex than seemed desirable. Maybe it was when I lived in deep mourning for a year or so and I became so weary of claiming that space of grief. “Yes, I’m still sad. Yes I still want to be left alone. Yes I’m still not sure what will make it better.” Sometimes it seems easier to just be quiet.
But it’s not easier, at least not in the way it seems. It’s only easier for a minute, and then that muscle, that muscle that exerts our truest self, it loses a little strength. With each sublimation, that muscle gets weaker and we find ourselves at the mercy of everyone else’s wants and needs, the ones they express so clearly, so readily and with full trust that doing so will not cause a major disruption.
So today, I will follow my children’s lead in claiming my space, my preferences, my rest. I cancelled appointments and rehearsals. I crossed chores off my list. I told the kids our evening might be different than we’d previously discussed. I let myself BE who I am right now. Not just because I’m a little sick, but because I am in there, I need to work that muscle and all these lovely people in my life – they need to know me.