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Washington Voices

Front Porch: Losing the deadlines, finding life

Thu., Oct. 6, 2011

The roses were gorgeous.

I buried my nose in the pale pink blooms displayed in the floral department at the grocery store. Each blossom and bud burst with sweet aroma. I pictured them overflowing in my favorite crystal vase.

And then I walked away. Who buys themselves flowers? I thought.

Resolutely, I filled my cart with bread, milk and fruit, paid for my groceries and drove home. But I couldn’t stop thinking about those roses – and why I didn’t buy them.

Somehow, I’d internalized the message that you wait for others to buy you flowers, and then only on special occasions. Those blooms would have fed my soul and warmed my heart, but I couldn’t give myself permission to buy them.

You see, I’m not very good at taking care of me.

As the youngest in my family, I was blessed with good parents, so I never needed to. I wasn’t spoiled. I was just loved a lot.

I married young, and my husband and I were poor college students who delighted in taking care of each other. And then I became a mother. Three boys arrived within a five-year span, and then after a five-year break, another son joined our busy family.

For the next 16 years I devoted myself to taking care of those four boys, five if you count my husband, and you really should.

Preschool play dates, kindergarten room mother, field trips, food preparation, cookie baking and all the things that come with being an at-home mom I tackled with enthusiasm and joy.

When my youngest started kindergarten, I went back to work, but as all moms know, the work at home doesn’t stop just because you’re not there as much. And who knew having three teenagers would be just as wearing as having three toddlers?

Oh, I did the things women are “supposed” to do for self-care. I joined a gym, started a book club and splurged on salon haircuts and highlights. While I enjoyed those things, they often became just one more item on my never-ending to-do list.

Recently, my oldest son moved out; my second son graduated, moved out and moved back; my third born learned to drive and my youngest turned 12. And I’m still mothering them all at some level.

Frankly, I’m exhausted.

As the boys got busier in activities that didn’t require my presence, I filled my time with more work, taking on more assignments and projects. And though I love writing, I’ve become deadline driven, moving from the urgent to the really urgent.

Last week, I was talking with another journalist who mentioned a novel she wanted to write. “I have the dialogue and whole scenes inside my head – I hear the voices. … ”

We laughed about the voices inside our heads, but later I realized I often can’t even hear my own voice, because the clamor of work and family drowns it out. Like Scarlett O’Hara, I tell myself, “I’ll think about that tomorrow,” but tomorrow is noisy too.

Suddenly, I’ve become a cliché – that woman in midlife who says, “When is it going to be my turn?”

The roses I didn’t buy became a catalyst. It was time for me to explore what it means to nurture myself.

So, when a dear friend offered me a secluded home in Spokane Valley to use as a writer’s retreat, I jumped at the chance. I’m taking a sabbatical from demanding voices and learning to listen to my own.

It isn’t easy. I felt compelled to drive to the North Side to cook dinner, do laundry and pick up Sam from school, though my husband was willing and capable. A friend asked, “Why are you doing that?” I replied, “Because it’s what a good wife and mom should do.”


And in the silence I could finally hear my own voice and realized I’d been squandering time that had been given to me. Instead of savoring my sabbatical, I tried to squeeze in another to-do list.

So for this week, I’ve slowed down. For the first time in my life, I’m journaling. I take long walks. I spend time with good friends. I still work, but at a less manic pace. And every night I light candles and soak in a bubble-filled tub with no cats or kids yowling outside the door. I even went to See’s and bought myself a box of chocolates. I had them gift wrap it, too. Who knows? I may even buy myself flowers.

I’m slowly starting to understand that perhaps the very best way I can take care of those I love is to at last learn how to care for me.

Contact Cindy Hval at Her previous columns are available online at

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