February 8, 2014

Self-Care as a Second Language. ~ Christine “Cissy” White

Paper heart gift

I have a friend who fills out the gift tag option when ordering products online—for herself!

When her item arrives, it comes with a love note, from her.


Another friend, who I went to Alaska with for six weeks during college wrote herself a letter. She put pen to paper before we even boarded the plane. I only found out when she received it mid-way through the adventure and told me she had done it because she knew she might be lonely.

You what?

In both instances, I immediately thought, whacko. I didn’t say the word but am certain the puzzled look on my face expressed how odd I thought each of them were.

“You might not want to share that with people” is what I was thinking. Maybe they didn’t know it seemed selfish and strange and kind of pathetic.

It’s years later and I wonder now, not about their choices but, about my response.

Clearly they were both ahead of their time. Now, there is a language for self-acceptance, self-compassion and self-love. But these friends weren’t doing online exercises with Brene Brown or reading Cheri Huber’s book There’s Nothing Wrong With You No Matter What You Think. No, they were attending to, nurturing and doting on themselves because they had learned how to relate to themselves in loving ways.

It seemed so crazy to me at the time. Then, I was barely conscious of the way I talked to myself. I’m not sure I would have even understood what having a relationship with myself meant.

“It’s okay to talk to yourself,” my great aunt Jean used to say, “as long as nobody answers.”

Writing notes or letters to yourself seemed too close to answering. And maybe it scared me. But why?

After all, I was a journal writer even way back when. It wasn’t the notes, per se, that struck me as strange but the planning and thinking ahead. The admitting of having needs and then planning to meet them as in the case of my college friend. Or, with my love note friend, it was the giving your attention to your own delight. Each of them were so unashamed, intentional and deliberate. It was puzzling.

As a kid, I was told if you asked for a piece of candy from the candy dish you couldn’t have it.

Asking was rude. You had to wait to be asked and pretend not to be staring at the white rooster dish, wondering what was inside or not be drooling over the chewy caramel candy in a white bowl.

If you could wait you would likely be rewarded. If not, game over, you lose. Don’t ask. Don’t expect. At least don’t say it out loud.

What was a candy dish for if not for sharing candy?

You were supposed to be coy about getting your needs met. Owning up to them was, well, needy and needy was gross and weak—maybe even greedy and bad.

However, waiting to be asked as though you didn’t care a bit was much more dignified and restrained. And if you go one step further, say “No thank you” even when you wanted what was offered—that was almost regal.

Denying the self and overriding desire seemed like strength.

No one said that and I’m sure that is not what anyone intended. That’s how I made sense of the messages I got and can’t speak for anyone else in my family.

What makes me think of it now isn’t the past but the cold.

I see that I have taught my daughter things I didn’t want to teach her. On Wednesday, she heads for the door to go to guitar class wearing only a sweatshirt—it’s seven degrees out.

“Put your coat on” I say, “It’s cold.”

“It’s just across the street.”

And the truth is, I never put my coat on, even when it’s seven degrees or a hat or my mittens. I don’t carry an umbrella. A remote starter? No way. All of those things are for wimps. Who has the time or the money and can’t be cold (or wet) for a minute or two?

And maybe I’m even a little proud of myself when I tough it out.

But why? Why be cold?

It certainly doesn’t make me feel proud when I see I have taught my daughter, not by what I say but by my example, to neglect taking better care of herself. I don’t want her to shiver in the cold to and from guitar class. I don’t think it’s tough and I want her to be more comfortable in the elements.

I don’t know if I’m ever going to write myself a love note when I order a package or mail myself a letter before boarding a plane. However, I’m going to start wearing my red mittens and maybe even a scarf.

I want my daughter to know that her needs are not optional. Life stretches our tough muscles plenty without us trying to go without or make due with less as though either is a form of virtue.

It’s one thing to give a pair of mittens to someone who needs them more. That might be noble or virtuous. But to leave them on the counter, by the door, where they are warm when my hands are cold, that’s something else.

That’s whacko!


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