I have a mole on my chin. One day, many (probably twenty) years ago, it grew one hair, which I plucked when it was long enough to pluck. A few months later, I noticed it was back and pulled it again. Eventually there were two hairs together, then four. A cluster! I remember the day I pulled one of the hairs out and was thrilled to realize it was silver. Silver chin hairs! I like silver hairs.
It has recently come to my attention that my chin hairs are growing at an increased rate of speed. It used to be months between pluckings and now it is weeks. Possibly I have plucked more than once in two weeks. I don’t know what this means and I don’t really want to know. I do enough late-night googling as it is.
When I get right up close and look at my chin hairs to pluck them–the lovely pressure and strain of the hair coming out of its follicle is so satisfying–I see other hairs on my face. A few of the other moles grow hairs as well. There is a place on my neck, just under the jawline, where a hair grows quite inobtrusively for [x amount of time] until one day it is long enough to curl up over my chin. Hi. I’m your neck hair. I am what stands between you and a career as a supermodel. What is it doing that whole time I don’t see it, I wonder. I have looked for it before and not found it. It’s only found when it’s exactly the right length to be found, at which point I dutifully yank it and marvel at its length. How does something get that long without me noticing.
When I came to parenting, I was not a physical nurturer. I cared about people, but not enough to go out of my way and sacrifice my own comfort for theirs. Dirty, sick, grouchy people, those are not my people. Sad, anguished, angry people, I am good with those. I will be your emotional rescue. I do not want to clean up your vomit. I would rather listen to you talk about your ex-whoever for a week than clean up your vomit.
The thing about parenting is: against the limits of your own comfort level, nurturing is how you pass the day. Like any skill, the more you do it, the better you get.
I remember the tragedy of the first snotty nose, the first shoulder barf, the first moaning, feverish face against mine, coughing in my nostrils, me thinking, “OH GOD I CAN’T MOVE AWAY BECAUSE SO PRECIOUS BUT I SO WANT TO MOVE AWAY DON’T COUGH ON ME SICK BABY.” They were all these walls I had to climb and get over, this “taking care of people” “whether you want to, or not” thing. Not to roll over and put a pillow on my head when I hear someone crying in the hallway, but to get out of bed and deal with it.
You do it every day and you don’t notice that you’re getting better at it until you are doing it without thinking. It gradually gets less hard, then easy, then subconscious.
After a nice, calm holiday season, we spent half of January ill with something or other, something else in February and the past week in the house with the ‘flu. Arlo (and later, Eli) was weak and feverish and coughing and I turned into robot mom: here’s a tissue, here’s medicine, here’s the TV remote, here’s a book, here’s more tissues. With little of the old panic or dread, I gave myself fully to caregiving, became The Mom Who Cares.
Every day. In the house. With sick children.
And I know that people do worse, do more, do more with worse. Other than the whole no-school thing, I didn’t even notice that a week had passed until the first morning we walked Arlo to school and the air felt like a beautiful salve against my skin. Being outside and walking down the street was such a gift and I realized that I hadn’t had that gift in so long.
Was this why my head had ached all week, why I had felt as though I might be getting sick but maybe not after all, why I was so tired, despite not doing anything. Because I hadn’t been..outside? Because no, I hadn’t done anything, except look after other people for a week, with the occasional break to stare at the Internet, waiting patiently for it to yield something wonderful or even just less annoying because everything was annoying and no, it wasn’t me, it was everyone and everything else. In the world. Everywhere.
I was surprised to realize I had forgotten about myself. In a way it’s good to know that I can step up and nurture if needed. In another way it’s scary that I could morph so quickly into someone for whom self-care becomes news. If I was a nurse I would be the chain-smoking, tequila-drinking kind. The pill-popping kind who is fine, fine, until she isn’t. What happened?
My chin hairs are invisible, until they are not. They appear, as if by magic, under my fingers as I write with my right hand or read things. They grow quietly and appear fully fledged when they are ready, a surprise, though not an unwelcome one.