How My Son Reminded Me That Resting is 'Enough'


On the 6 of May, I opened my journal and wrote the words, “I made a cup of tea,” on a fresh page. After the final letter was formed, I sat back and read the sentence, my mind slowly working through my day as I tried to find another thing that I had accomplished. A few weeks earlier, my sister had sent me Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Option B,” a part memoir, part self-help book about grief, and I was dutifully following her advice. For over a week now, I’d finished my day with a journal writing session; my task was to list all the things I had done well.

A cup of tea? Was the sum of my day really pouring boiling water over a tea bag then adding some milk? I closed my journal and climbed back into bed, enjoying the relief of my heart rate slowing as I reclined against the pillows. I shut my eyes and tried to run through the events of my day, but my thoughts were sluggish, muffled voices spoken through walls, as if they weren’t coming from me at all. It was harder to think of a thing I had done well than to get out of bed and actually do something. And boy, were there things to be done. Washing to be folded, dishes to be put away, Nerf guns and Lego and books and hairbrushes and stuff on every surface. All the things I couldn’t do that day. Visual reminders of my inadequacy everywhere.

I could have cried, but I was done with crying. I was not only sick – I was sick of myself. I was bored of being slow, in body and in mind. I felt humiliated every time an elderly person overtook me as I shuffled down the street. I hated that my family had to slow their steps to a snail’s pace, the way we blocked pedestrian traffic everywhere we went. I wanted to scream every time I had to sit down in the middle of a shop, or wait in the car because I couldn’t manage a simple errand. But I didn’t make a fuss. And my screams were always silent. I already felt like a physical burden to everyone around me, and I was determined not to become a mental one as well.

Besides, hadn’t everyone told me that my biggest battle would be a mental one? That attitude was everything? Since suddenly being diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, something I had never even heard of a few months earlier, I had been inundated with bumper sticker advice. It seemed that being anything other than cheery when faced with a potentially lifelong illness was frowned upon. And then there were my children who studied me when they thought I wasn’t looking…the big eyes that held shadows of the panic they’d felt when they came home from school and found that I’d been admitted to a hospital an hour away. I couldn’t show them the face of my own fear, could I? Was that even allowed?

Six months ago, I decided to take up running again. After dinner, I’d put my running shoes on, shut the door behind me, and take off down the street. I didn’t make it very far, but I was getting stronger by the day. And it felt good to be away from the house and the kids for half an hour, to be alone on the street with only moving my legs and coordinating my breaths to think about. On my runs, I thought about the book I had just finished writing. I dreamed about the places I wanted to visit. I was excited about the new year and full of plans.

And now my great achievement for the day was making a cup of tea.

The door cracked open, and my son walked in. I saw that he was wearing his pajamas and his hair was wet and combed. I realized that my husband must have overseen this transformation from dirty-faced-raggamuffin to sweet-smelling-and-ready-for-bed sometime in between cleaning up dinner and helping our daughter with her homework. He approached the bed and threw himself into my arms.

“Goodnight,” he said.

“Goodnight,” I replied. “Have a good sleep.”

He straightened up and looked into my face, pausing for a moment before speaking. My son and I have always had the ability to look into one another’s souls, right from that first moment when he was placed on my chest.

“Did you have a bad day?” he asked.

I paused as he had, allowing a rush of thoughts to flood my mind. If I told him the truth, would he worry about me? Was it kinder to lie?

“I didn’t get anything done today,” I eventually said. “I feel useless. There’s so much to do and I can’t do any of it.”

He considered this for a moment and then he smiled. “Did you rest today?”

I looked around at the rumpled bedcovers and what I’d come to think of as my essentials: Kindle, water, salty snacks, painkillers, my phone – all within arm’s reach.

“Yes.”

His smile grew and he gave a little shrug of his shoulders. “Well,” he said, giving me a look that said he thought I was impossibly silly, “Isn’t that what you really needed to do today?”

I waited until he’d left before opening my journal again, and didn’t hesitate when I found the page. Underneath the line I’d written earlier, I wrote in big, bold letters, “I took care of myself.”

And suddenly, just like that, it was enough.

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