January 14, 2020
If you watched the short-lived, but charming sit-com, “Chico and the Man” in the Seventies, you met a young actor/comedian named Freddie Prinze, whose character, Chico, had a catch phrase, “It’s not my job, man” which he would comically wisecrack to his boss whenever asked to do a task he found unpleasant. It was all in fun, but it also became part of the social lexicon and seems to be even today. People simply didn’t want to do more than just what is expected, even if it will help everyone reaching for the same goal. As a sad aside, Freddie Prinze, like his sit-com, was short-lived. He died tragically, in his early twenties.
That said, this blog is a little late in coming, because number one, I was sick with a horrendous “bug” which I am pretty sure my adorable, but lethal grandchild gifted to me. Secondly, I had some other obligations I needed (read felt obligated) to tend to. See, that’s my problem, always has been. I have this innate sense of responsibility to others, that they need me. But sometimes it just gets out of hand. Because, you see, unlike Chico, I always feel like everything is my job. Make no mistake, I have always been a nurturer, someone who enjoys helping. As the oldest in a large – ridiculously large – family of ten children, I learned early on that I needed to help, simply to survive, and keep things on an even keel. I always had this sense of empathy, duty, and responsibility particularly for my mother. So, I think it came naturally to lend a hand where needed. So, throughout my life, I was the go-to person, the dependable one, who could always be counted on to get things done, to not disappoint, to rise to the occasion. That’s a big burden to shoulder and I never let on that I sometimes felt the burden wearing me down. I mastered the pretense of always having it together. In school, both high school and college, I was a great team mate on group projects. I would take my portion of the project and run with it. And, truthfully, I would likely absorb some of the work of some less than stellar participants. I served on committees, volunteered in the community and assisted the sick and elderly. It felt good and I was happy to do it. When my children were growing up, I was an active parent, possibly overcompensating, particularly when I went back to work full-time. Despite the many nights I would be exhausted, I gladly drove to their high school to work on the minutiae that defines the after-prom party bullshit. If I never see pastel tissue paper, pipe cleaners or Dupont Tyvek again, it will be too soon. And yet, I soldiered on, because I was afraid to say “no.” I am in a well-known international community service organization, which I absolutely love, but like most volunteer entities, usually about 15% of the people do about 80% of the work. But I want the group to be successful, so I continue to step up.
As time went on, I found that I was able to extend the range of my largesse to my humor and people skills, providing said proficiencies for fun banter and learned discussions to any social situation in which I found myself – whether I felt like it or not. Somehow, it became my duty. Call it guilt, obligation, sympathy, whatever. It was up to me to never let there be a lull in the conversation. I felt the success or failure of a gathering was my responsibility, which, when I am thinking clearly, is clearly ridiculous. And narcissistic. And almost twisted. Well, maybe not that bad. It’s not like I’m a mental case or anything. At least I don’t think so. Hmmmm.
I have some close friends whom I would do anything for and they the same for me. We have known each other for years and as the saying goes, we know each other’s secrets. The planning for this blog was already in the works when two of my close friends came to me with some troubling news meant for my ears only. That has become a pattern with me. A few friends use me as their sounding board and I keep it to myself, which a good friend does. I then offer my sympathies, advice or just an ear. I am happy to do it, but truthfully, it can sometimes be an emotional burden and in some cases will require my added assistance in other areas. Again, I am happy to do it, because I know they would do it for me and in some cases they have. After I talked to each of them this week, I alerted them to the upcoming blog and told them that its subject matter was mere coincidence and not written with anyone in particular in mind and to not get their panties in a wad….they both understood…and laughed. No panty wadding experienced. And neither has ever been a burden to me…except maybe that one time….
This brings me to self-care. My whole life has been one of noblesse oblige. I really can’t help myself. It’s my nature. It’s my nurture – thanks to my upbringing and education and my life’s experiences. I do it because I truly want to, but truthfully, I also do it because I feel compelled out of guilt and fear that it won’t get done. So, as the New Year begins – and the year that I turn 70, I am going to make a concerted effort to put ME first – not always, but sometimes. Have I mentioned that I have cancelled doctors’ appointments and other plans in order to take care of someone else? I am not revealing this to look for accolades, but rather to help you understand where I am coming from and this mindset I have. I have reached the point in my life where I am finally and painfully aware that my time in this universe is short. I want – I NEED – more time for doing things that I don’t have to explain to anyone. I have a finite number of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years left to pursue what makes me happy and I intend to check at least a few off the list. This doesn’t mean that I am not going to be there for people. I can’t turn off who I am. What it does mean is that I am going to pay closer attention to how I am feeling and not ignore myself. I have learned that it’s not selfish to put myself first sometimes. In fact, it will make me a better friend, sibling, mother, grandmother, or simply stranger on the street. I saw a self-care quote that really spoke to me. It says: “You owe yourself the love that you so freely give others.” I do. I intend to start today. If I start feeling guilty, someone, please smack me.