As usual with every birthday and gift-giving holiday now that I’ve entered the realm of Motherhood, my scattered friends and family are quick to send gift cards my way in lieu of tangible gifts, possibly because they don’t know what natural parenting train I’m on these days, or because they know me too well. Target, Barnes & Noble, Amazon. I love gift cards, can’t ever get enough of them, and they allow my Type A spirit to both be spoiled by the generous people in my life but also retain some sort of autonomy over the entire situation. A gift card in my mailbox ignites the reward center in my brain. Finally, I can buy those books I’ve wanted to order! I can get a massage! I can buy that organic, non GMO, locally-made, vegan face cream I’ve been meaning to try! I have lofty goals every time I put that new gift card into my wallet. I’m going to treat myself!
Do you know what I really spend my gift cards on? Gift cards someone sent to me, in an envelope addressed to me, to my PO box with my name on it, that I pay for with my paycheck?
I spend them on my family.
I buy diaper rash cream. Cotton bed sheets. Toilet paper. Baby socks. Wipes. Toys. Garbage bags. Cleaning supplies.
I should’ve prefaced this entire blog by saying I’ve made New Years Resolutions this year and I’d like to keep them.
One of these resolutions is to stop spending gift cards on people who aren’t Emily.
An epiphany washed over me last week when my aunt sent me a Target gift card for Christmas. I’d explicitly told her that if she were to get me anything for Christmas, I wanted a Target gift card, so when it arrived in my inbox one morning I was more relieved than I was surprised. I’d just run out of shampoo.
On my way home from work several days later I made the last-minute decision to leave my cell phone in my car in the Target parking lot apparently along with all concern that the toddler at home might need me and I went inside for that shampoo. Somewhere near the laundry detergent aisle I remembered I’d also recently run out of glycolic acid face pads and mascara.
I opened my purse to check the time on my phone - my phone that was actually tucked away under a pile of my toddler’s snow gear in the back of my car, hidden from thieves looking for a cracked iPhone 7 in a rusted ten year old Honda Pilot. (I grew up outside Detroit; this paranoia is just part of who I am now.)
I continued strolling. There was no rush. I was at Target alone.
I felt like I was cheating on the husband I don't have. The hair on the back of my neck stood up with guilt.
After an excessively long ten whole minutes reading shampoo bottle labels, looking for words to avoid like "methylparaben" and "sodium laurel sulfates", my inner monologue of “I have a $50 water filter and I spent $15 on organic laundry detergent every month – I can handle a little synthetic estrogen in my shampoo” took over my conscience.
I obviously blacked out because the next thing I remember is looking down into my cart in front of the bathroom rug section of the store to find an oversize acrylic sweater from that Knox Rose brand I so hate to love, and three pairs of glitter socks. None of these things I needed, per se. But I wanted them. I wanted them so bad.
I ran my poorly manicured hands over the various bathroom rugs. Different sizes, bright colors, textures, prices, patterns. I’ve wanted a rug for months. Since we moved here I’ve been making snide remarks like, “Did you like the dinner I just made? Want to pick up a rug for the bathroom next time you’re out?” and “Want me to text the babysitter for this weekend? We can go on a real date.” (Cartwheel told me there was a %15 off sale on bathroom accessories that weekend.) I've been exiting the shower every morning to the same stained bath towel on the floor for eight months.
This neon raspberry color doesn’t match absolutely anything in my house and it's incredibly obnoxious. I think I should buy it.
Into the cart it went. I didn’t walk more than 5 meters away from the bathroom rug aisle when I remembered we’d run dangerously low on toilet paper, something I’d also passive aggressively hinted at needing in recent days.
I took a sharp U-turn in the aisle next to the children’s section and booked it to the "cleaning supplies and other toilet accessories" section.
And then I abruptly stopped.
Here I was, after a long day at work, alone in Target. Alone. In Target. Without my child. Without anyone texting me or calling me (I had no way of knowing if they were doing these things and no desire to know if they were). I had a gift card addressed to me. ME.
And then it hit me like a bus.
Why should I spend my gift money on the things people use to wipe their rear-ends?
There in the middle of Target on a Saturday night I thought to myself, “When was the last time I went out with friends, or did anything to relax and enjoy myself, and not end up at the grocery store or the health food store shopping for other people and not be restricted to a time limit and/or listen for the faint ‘Mommy!’ inevitably coming from the other room?”
The answer is two years, by the way.
I was warned well before I moved to Western Colorado that by leaving my family and everyone I knew, I’d be forfeiting the freedom afforded to most people who live near their families and could take off for a needed weekend away, or have a proper Date Night. I chose to ignore all of these possibilities and now my Me Time is spent arguing with myself over the necessity of toilet paper and what psychological significance it plays in my family dynamics, and ultimately, how I value myself as a person.
This toilet paper debacle turned into a full-blown self-worth crisis.
I left the store that night with two shopping bags. I bought one acrylic sweater I did not need, 3 pairs of socks I also didn't need, glycolic acid face pads, paraben-laden shampoo, and mascara.
I did not buy toilet paper; someone else can buy that. I'm not the only person capable of keeping the world afloat - and rear-ends clean.
I am, however, the only person who is directly responsible for my own happiness.
I also did not buy a bathroom rug that night. Raspberry clashes with my subdued, rustic vintage-woodsy color scheme and, frankly, I was feeling really bold about this realization that I am still a person and I wanted to make a statement (that only I would recognize as a statement).
I didn't check my phone until I arrived in my driveway 45 minutes later.
"Where are you?" received 30 minutes ago.
Motherhood is by default 100% self-sacrificing, 99% humbling, and 15% brain cell-diminishing. That first stitch in my 2nd degree tear, the bleeding and cracked nipples that romantically signaled the beginning of my two-years-and-counting nursing relationship, and the preemptive anti-aging skincare routine I started when my baby was nine months old and I was a whopping 23 years old. They weren’t kidding me when they told me I might very well forget who I was before I started chipping away at my soul – and body – for this child I love so much.
My New Year's Resolution for 2018 is to start thinking of myself sometimes without apologizing for it. Maybe it can just be a given that one Friday night sometime in the near future I take myself out to a movie, or meet a friend in Carbondale, or take a class at Yoga V. Or – gasp – drive to Denver and stay with childless friends for a night. The world will not stop spinning on its axis if Mom is the one who goes out one weekend night instead of staying home and folding 17 loads of laundry to the sound of Rockabye Your Bear. Every ounce of my being goes so much into my family, thinking of my family, making sure my family is happy, that I've forgotten what it's like to be a normal mid-twenties young woman with her own dreams and the overwhelming desire to not end every "I'm running out for 30 minutes!" excursion with a trip to City Market. I went to Target that night to clear my head and treat myself. My aunt's gift to me was not the toilet paper I would later use to sop up the urine from my toddler's miniature toilet that she spilled on the floor. My gift was the box of glycolic acid peel pads that will hopefully fade the wrinkle developing in my forehead from my permanent "WHY WOULD YOU PUT THAT IN YOUR MOUTH?!" expression.
How do you spend your Me Time? If you were given a weekend off from Mom Life, what would you do? If you were given an hour off, would you spend it at the grocery store? Or would you join me at a café and drink a $6 latte? Enlighten me with your New Years Resolutions. My list is always growing.