A week ago, I was sitting in bed, sipping coffee that Reggie fetched from the restaurant at the Hilton at Torrey Pines in La Jolla. We arrived here the day before to celebrate my granddaughter’s seventh birthday — just seventy-two hours after I returned from a three-week trip to Japan. The jet lag was kicking my butt, and when I awoke to make the trek from LA to San Diego, I was far from enthused about driving what I expected to be a three-hour trip.
The drive to San Diego was much longer than either one of us expected, and even with building in a cushion, I was late for much-needed appointments with my acupuncturist, Reiki therapist, and chiropractor. (Life in LA is still unfolding, and I haven’t yet found all of my practitioners.) By the time Reg and I checked into the hotel, we had been traveling more than eight hours — and then we had to change rooms — making us late for the celebration dinner with the family at Benihanas.
The dinner was enjoyable, and my heart warmed when seeing my grandchildren. I felt guilty for groaning about making the trip, especially after experiencing their excitement as we drove up to the restaurant. They were delighted that we had arrived, and the girls insisted on sitting next to Reggie, which pleased me as well. They’ve welcomed him into our lives, even though that meant that my visits with them have been reduced from several times a week to about once a month.
My usual mode is to spend every waking moment that isn’t booked, seeing clients, colleagues, and friends with my grandchildren and giving my son and daughter-in-law a little break. I didn’t have it in me this time. While I was gaining more energy each day, after almost twenty-four hours of travel on trains, a plane, and an automobile, I was far from bounding out of bed, eager to see what the day held. A part of me feared this was a new way of being — and another part enjoyed being more gentle with myself, preferring sitting quietly in bed and contemplating how I was to approach the day. Or better said, how I was to be with my family and the celebrations when I might be needing a nap and also making sure Reg’s needs were met.
The day unfolded more leisurely than I expected. I did yoga while looking out over the golf course and the ocean beyond. Reg was watching golf, and then we went to breakfast. Afterward, I headed to the gym, listening to Rick Rubin’s The Creative Act while putting in thirty minutes on the elliptical. I didn’t sense the usual internal pressure to rush through my activities to see my family — and yet, I was aware that morning was easing into the afternoon. When I returned to the room, I told Reggie that we should leave in an hour and spend a little time with the family before heading to the party for Abi and her friends. I texted my son and daughter-in-law our arrival time and then padded off to the shower.
Fear of Disappointing Others
A part of me was struggling with worrying about disappointing others — a lifelong battle. I’d watched the women in my childhood exhaust themselves by rushing to tend to the demands and expectations of those around them. I saw very little pause and consideration of what their needs might be.
As if on cue, I opened an email from Tim Ferris where he shared a quote by Glennon Doyle, “Listen. Every time you’re given a choice between disappointing someone else and disappointing yourself, your duty is to disappoint that someone else. Your job, throughout your entire life, is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing yourself.”
I’ve battled with myself over honoring my own needs with what others expect of me. For much of my life, I’ve modeled the behavior of the women who came before me — particularly my mother, my aunt, and my grandmother. I’ve said “yes” when I should have said “no.” I’ve also come to understand that it’s okay to reconsider a former commitment. Changing my mind is okay.
Making Different Choices
A few months ago, Reggie had a commercial shoot that was going to keep him out late in the day. He is the one who holds forth in the kitchen. He loves to cook, and I savor his incredible dishes. He makes a sandwich a fine dining experience. It’s not that I don’t like cooking or can’t; he receives such pleasure in preparing our meals which allows me more time to write or meet with my clients. Yet on this day, I told him I’d handle dinner.
I had everything purchased, seasoned, and prepped. And then a rare migraine descended upon me. I struggled to remain upright and napped several times throughout the day. The clock ticked into the evening, and my energy waned. I left the pork chops and sweet potatoes in the fridge and pulled out a gourmet frozen pizza, which I enhanced with extra cheese and olive oil and slices of ham, and I made a salad. Then I headed for the bathtub to ward off the returning throbbing. A half-hour later, I heard the key in the door. He was beaming, and I knew he had a good day. Then he looked beyond me to the kitchen. His smile faded. My stomach sank. I had disappointed him. I hadn’t kept my word.
Silence shrouded us through the evening. And as I lay in his arms before falling asleep, I felt his heart pounding in his chest. “Are you okay?” I asked. “We’ll talk in the morning,” he replied.
The following morning, he explained that if I had told him I wasn’t feeling well, he would have brought dinner home for us. He was looking forward to a nice meal after a full day of work — not a frozen pizza meant for snacking while watching football or golf.
While I had made a commitment to make dinner in the manner in which we were accustomed, my commitment should have been to myself — to my well-being. The better choice would have been to call him and let him know I wasn’t feeling well enough to cook a fabulous meal. Instead, I toughed it out and served up mediocre sustenance.
One of my mentors, Darla Englemann, once said to me, “If you can’t do it with heart, it’s not yours to do.”
There have been many times throughout my life when my heart hasn’t been in whatever I was outwardly engaged in — a marriage, a job, a place, or an activity. I toughed through years of experiences that I knew weren’t right for me and many that created ill effects on my body, mind, and spirit. At one point, I owned and managed a fly fishing lodge with my second husband. I also had been guiding, which meant long days on the water, often in the beating sun and wind. While it sounds romantic, the reality of operating an outdoor adventure hospitality business is grueling. The demands of the business were wreaking havoc on my well-being. We rarely had time off, and our staff showed up inconsistently, which often meant I might be guiding during the day only to arrive back at the dock to find out that dinner wasn’t being made. After years, with little relief in sight, I was done and said I wanted out. His remark: You made a commitment. Earlier in my life, when I wanted to leave my volatile first marriage, my father accused me of “breaking up the family.” The message was clear: You made your bed, now lie in it. (One of my mother’s favorite sayings.) Changing your mind wasn’t allowed.
Permission to Take Care of Me
With Reg, I’m learning I have permission to take care of myself. It’s okay not to drive myself into the ground meeting the expectations of others — or perhaps the perceived expectations of others.
On that birthday weekend, when I stepped out of the bathroom, I saw that my daughter-in-law texted. They had everything under control, and we didn’t need to show up before the party. I was relieved. After three weeks of nearly non-stop activity, a quiet meandering through my day was what I needed. It’s what I received.
Reg and I arrived right on time, and we helped a little with the set-up and, later, the clean-up. After three hours of socializing amidst a swarm of children, we slipped off to the car and traveled back to the hotel, where we sipped soup from room service and watched a movie. The day had been bookended with ease. That’s exactly what I needed.
And as far as expectations, they were likely of my own making. The practice of becoming clear about what I can offer with my heart continues. One day, I might just have it “right.”