Like any working mom, I am busy. Going nonstop most of the time. So when I strained my calf muscle one month ago, and my doctor told me no walking for a week and no running for eight weeks, it felt like a death sentence. Crutches? For at least a week? Was she crazy?? I have two young kids, a busy clinical practice, and, oh yeah, a household to run. There’s no way!
But then I tried to walk, and it HURT. I am not too embarrassed to admit that I sobbed shamelessly that first night, both from the pain and my mind racing with all the things I wouldn’t be able to do over the next two months. Playing with my kids, working, grocery shopping, cleaning, exercising, even just walking up and down the steps at daycare seemed impossible at first. I couldn’t carry anything because it hurt too badly to walk, and I was too uncoordinated to hold something while simultaneously using crutches. How was I supposed to do laundry? I was having a major pity party.
That first week was the hardest. It was humbling, not being able to do anything at all. And anyone who knows me recognizes that asking for help does not exactly come easily to me. Apparently I quickly turned into quite a grump, according to my husband, who begged me to see it as an opportunity to rest and take a break rather than a devastating setback. I fought hard against this initially, because I take pride in and enjoy my day-to-day mom tasks, and couldn’t handle not being able to do those things anymore. Furthermore, I felt guilty. Yup, all moms are familiar with this reaction. Useless is not a fun feeling when a whole family depends on you.
But as the extent of my limitations became more apparent, I began to see this as a sign that I needed to slooooww down and use this injury as an opportunity to refocus my priorities and learn how to relax. I realized I had no other option than to start –gulp– asking for help. From pretty much everyone. My husband had to cook, clean, carry my stuff around, dress the kids. Teachers brought the kids in or out for me when I was dropping off or picking up. My admin at work had to bring people back to the office, so I didn’t have to walk the painstaking 100 yards to greet them in the waiting room. And our kids had to help clean up because I just couldn’t.
But you know what? It turned out not to be nearly as hard as I thought it would be. And what’s more, people were actually happy to help! Volunteering to do it, honestly. Which made me feel so grateful and appreciative of all the wonderful people in my life.
Once I let go of the overwhelming feeling that I had to do everything for everyone all the time, I honestly felt sort of relieved. My kids’ lunches became a lot simpler (leftover mac and cheese, anyone?) but if it bothered them I never heard about it. I stopped jam packing our weekends with tons of stuff I could no longer participate in, and as a result our family really enjoyed more down time together. We have spent many a summer evening with the kids in the back yard, my husband and I watching and talking, often with a glass of wine in hand. My husband took on most of the household responsibilities- almost too well. In fact, I’m hoping he continues to be such an effective cleaner once I am 100% healed… What was most touching to see was that my kids truly enjoyed taking care of me. I realized that I could start expecting more from them (aka stop doing everything for them) and that they actually wanted to help out.
Now that I’ve regained some of my functionality back, I can feel myself getting pulled to overcommit to things again. I’ve been agonizing over signing our kids up for all sorts of stuff, from ballet and art classes to soccer and swimming. I have a list of house projects that need to get done, and we are already starting to plan our holiday travel. And while I realize I can’t just sit back and relax forever, I will carry with me the lesson that oftentimes less is more. Especially while our kids are still young and really don’t care what they are doing as long as it’s with us. So now I think twice before committing to anything, and make an effort to have at least a few nights a week with nothing planned so that we can just relax and enjoy each other.
I may have reached this realization slowly and painfully—literally—but I’m glad I got there in the end.