Leaning up against our piano, across from my little white desk where I’m sitting right now, is an old steel-string guitar in a case that won’t snap shut anymore. I used to play it a little.
I bought it when I was in my early 20s on a whim at Homestead Pickin’ Parlor, a quirky little music shop next door to where I worked for an adult literacy program in the basement of a used furniture store. My first “real job” out of college.
One day, I noticed a new sign for guitar lessons on the door. I’d played saxophone in my high school band and took piano lessons as a kid, but I’d always dreamed of playing the guitar. In my mind, it’s the queen mother of all instruments.
Twenty minutes later, I walked out of that little shop a proud owner of a second-hand, Blueridge guitar and with a reminder slip to return the following Tuesday at 5 p.m. for my first lesson with Martha.
Martha, a flower child in the flesh with little round glasses, freckles, and a globe of curly red hair, had the patience of a saint as she did her best to teach scales and chords and rhythms to me— the clean-cut yuppie in a bob cut from next door (little did she know I’m a flower child in disguise).
Despite a lack of natural musical talent and finger dexterity, after weekly lessons with Martha for a year or so, I was able to clumsily strum and pick my way through many of my favorite folksy tunes such as “Knocking on Heavens Door” by Bob Dylan, “Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell, “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens. “Feelin’ Groovy” by Paul Simon. . .
Knowing it was my own hands “jamming” out at least some semblance of those masterful melodies, was nothing short of euphoria. It filled cracks and crevices in me I didn’t even know were there.
Sadly, I’ve hardly picked up that guitar for fifteen years. It’s mostly there to inspire the kids to want to play it. The minute my first child latched on to me for her survival and sustenance, pieces of me were completely swooped away in the glorious vortex of motherhood, swirling around in the purest love of all, anointed and disheveled by sense of purpose, joy, despair, hope, and fear.
And in the center of it all, since that first sleepless inauguration, has grown a smoldering self-neglect so still and quiet that it often goes unnoticed by even the most astute radar.
Sometimes when I glance over at that guitar, a longing for those pieces of me I’ve let go of, one by one like red balloons, washes over me. If I only had kept playing and practicing. As a mom of three, there always seems to be something else I ought to be doing than tending to my own desires and needs.
As any mother head-over-heels in love with her children will tell you, I wouldn’t trade the often self-depriving, complicated, heart-wrenching vocation of motherhood for anything in the world. But now that my kids are teens and tweens, more than ever they’re needing a strong, healthy mother to model after. How can I guide them to that which makes their spirits soar when I so often shut myself off from that which makes mine?
When it comes to self-care—making time for date nights with my husband, exercising regularly, eating lunch sitting down, getting regular physicals, hobbies, asking for help, buying myself new socks —I’d give myself a low C-minus overall. And I don’t even struggle with half the stuff some women I know and love do, like caring round-the-clock for a child with severe special needs or working long hours to make ends meet.
I took an important step forward this week, though. I read Julie Burton’s new book: The Self-Care Solution. I don’t typically read self-help type books, but this one called to me, and plus, I’ve had the honor of getting to know Julie through the Twin Cities Writing Studio, which she founded along with Nina Badzin. She’s the real deal.
In countless ways, it was like reading my own story. Julie, a mother of four, writes, “I feel my children’s feelings, and I take on their issues as if they are my own. I struggle—I mean I really struggle, at a cellular level—to understand where I stop and they start, or where they stop and I start.”
Oh my gosh, she nails it with those lines and all throughout the book.
Julie’s journey from rock bottom in the self-care department to wholeness— combined with real-life stories of other women she’s interviewed and powerful, practical, bite-sized ideas for incorporating self-care into our everyday lives—reached out and into my smoldering nucleus like a sweet, cool mist.
A mist as awakening as this Aha! moment Julie describes . . .
“I was driving in my car with my daughter in the backseat, and just daydreaming, thinking about nothing in particular. My daughter said something silly and she laughed. And then I laughed—really laughed. And I realized that this subtle yet powerful feeling that was filling up my entire being—a feeling that, until that simple moment of laughing with my daughter, I had not realized how much I had missed it—was happiness.”
Mother’s Day is right around the corner. Maybe treat yourself to this awesome book.
I’m Julie Jo Severson, mom of three and freelance writer. I launched this blog Carvings On A Desk in 2015. It’s where I doodle about past, present, future clinking glasses and making peace and keep pieces of myself from getting swept away. To see my other recent posts, click here.