This story was first posted on Stories from the Street on 14th April 2010.
I think it started when I bought the lipstick: a decision made to treat myself. At last I’d found the right colour, one of those liquid ones that don’t come off in 10 minutes. It cost quite a bit more than I usually spend on myself… but now every morning I can apply the ‘mask’, make myself look and feel better. That has to be a step in the right direction.
My mother left me when I was a child – as in ‘took her life and went away forever’. It was just before those all-important teenage years. I spent them in a boarding school, a sisterhood all growing up together. No-one taught me how to cook, unless you count Domestic Science rock buns. I guess I had to make it all up for myself after that, and it turns out that the problem ever since is that I’ve tried too hard!
Can you imagine that, my life’s report reads, “This one simply tries too hard”? Apart from the rebellious years, when I threw off all restraint and dived into the world headfirst to seek the pearl that wasn’t there – and thankfully was rescued by a passing handsome sailor who’s provided me with harbour ever since – I’ve made it my aim to be the best that I can be. And whether making up for past transgressions or reacting to those who transgressed against me, I have given it my all, heart and soul, in the effort to be good.
I know I can be pretty good! I’ve only been a housewife – never drawn to a career – and of course that creates a guilt all of its own, with no status or financial reward attached. I’m grateful for the high-earning hard-worker who makes it possible, as I have made his life possible too, but the label of being a ‘wife’ in the ‘house’ isn’t the greatest description to carry. Oh, but I’m open and I’m willing, and I have so much to give – between the laundry and the shopping and the jobs that he doesn’t have time to do. So I prefer to say I’m self-employed (with very flexible hours) and to fill up my days with multi-coloured meetings and people and journeys and challenges (no monochrome for me) trying to express all that I am and leave a mark. Gosh, it’s tiring! I was taught that ‘it’s more blessed to give than to receive’ and that’s all good. But when you’re scraping the barrel, drawing from an empty well, it has to be time to stop and take stock.
So a foray into the make-up department in Boots and an article in the newspaper and I start to realise that looking after no. 1 is more than just selfishness and that when I was told to ‘put others first and yourself last’ I may have been misdirected. After all how can we love our neighbours as we love ourselves if we do not know how to love ourselves? There may be many people who have got this cracked, but my lack of self-nurture has turned this plant yellow and sickly, dried up in the dark, unable to bloom with the glory and joy that was intended… or if that’s a little too melodramatic, at the very least I feel exhausted and empty with the effort of producing flowers simply for others to enjoy.
So here’s a woman who should know about these things – the popular singer Alicia Keys, with a sucessful career and fame (no-one would call her ‘just a housewife’) quoted last December in the Times: “we get into these habits – maybe not you (male interviewer) but women – of doing everything for everyone else first. Because we’re so beautiful and its in our nature, we’re feminine and we give life, that’s what we’re supposed to do in a way. But we’re also supposed to honour ourselves…”
Well maybe not men in the same way, Alicia, but I’m glad that you said it not me! Us females may have our common struggles, but perhaps the fragile male ego is a more hidden issue, the need to prove themselves a different Achilles heel… Either way, we’re “supposed to honour ourselves” ! How hard it has been to recognise that ‘I am worth it’ – no wonder L’Oreal ads don’t ring true! – and really know down at the root that I am honoured, precious, loved. Of course I have the affirmation of those who love me, and I have more of those than most, but at the core a history of abandonment is hard to overcome.
But hey! Come on! I have been rescued! My 40 years since then have been packed with so much treasure, the fulness of a life well-lived. I am highly favoured among women, one of the most blessed and privileged I know, and all I need to do is just RELAX into that! I truly am content that my epitaph should be “MOTHER – WIFE – FRIEND – SERVANT OF ALL” – what greater memorial could there be?
So here’s the choice to make, to practise what I preach. Today I am going to the spa for some pampering and later I’ll play the piano that I’ve just started learning at the age of 52. Then I’ll sit in the garden in the sunshine and rest in the favour of heaven, allowing myself time to breathe. I’ll stop trying so hard and just be glad to be… Because the little girl who always put herself w-a-y down the list… has come out on top!