If someone you loved was sick, would you make them wait in a cold car on a rainy night for two hours?
Would you send them to the Hallmark store in the middle of a rainstorm to buy a replacement Elf on the Shelf?
Would you insist that the sick person go to Costco, make dinner and tidy up the house?
Would you berate them for not working harder?
Probably not, because that would be cruel.
It turns out that I’ve been pretty cruel to myself this winter. I knew I had a nasty cold I couldn’t shake, but that didn’t stop me from being a mom.
When my daughter went to dance lessons and Girl Scouts, I waited in the car. It didn’t matter that it was 38 degrees outside; I figured my winter coat would keep me warm. I could have waited at Starbucks, but it was hard to justify spending so much money on myself.
When the Elf on the Shelf went missing, I tore through the house on a cleaning rampage trying to find it, all the while coughing, sneezing and using up a box of tissues. After finally admitting defeat, I drove to the store to buy a replacement elf and did a Costco run while I was at it.
My husband encouraged me to take care of myself, but I didn’t. Instead, I felt guilty that I wasn’t performing up to my usual standards. Housework was slipping. Gymnastics clothes weren’t washed and ready to go. I turned down opportunities to participate at church. I was tired all the time and needed to take naps or else I’d be too exhausted to drive the Mom Taxi.
Finally, I went to the walk-in-clinic at Edmonds Family Medicine. I waited until a Sunday because I didn’t want to interfere with my kids’ weekday schedule.
After some poking and prodding, the doctor said to me, “Congratulations! You have a two-fer.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“You have pneumonia and a sinus infection,” he told me, “and for the next four months, you’ll have compromised lungs.”
Merry Christmas to me.
I went home, flopped on the couch and at last deemed myself worthy of claiming the television for the entire week, if I wanted it. At least that’s what I told myself.
In reality I continued to wrestle with guilt. Guilt that I couldn’t volunteer at school. Guilt that I couldn’t take my daughter to “The Nutcracker.” Guilt that I hadn’t finished Christmas shopping.
But most of all I felt guilt for how shabbily I had treated myself. I had run my health into the ground. There is no person in my life to whom I would be so cruel.
Today is Christmas Eve, and I know I’m not the only woman who has woken up exhausted. Maybe we all need to take a deep breath (if we can do so without coughing) and remember that the best present in the whole world is the gift of good health.
Then — and this is the hard part — we need to remember that we deserve that present, too.
Jennifer Bardsley is author of the books “Genesis Girl” and “Damaged Goods.” Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal.