Fill Up. Empty Out.

BY KATE KOLE

I became a fitness instructor and yoga teacher before I became a mom.

The trend towards self-care and inspirational Pinterest boards took off during my training tenure and I enthusiastically turned into a spokesperson for the popular social media proverb, “You can’t pour from an empty cup”.

I cringe a bit each time I recall the way I would readily offer that insight. After class, someone would share with me that it felt so nice to practice. That she knew she needed to do it more often. But between work, and family, and life, it was just hard to find the motivation, and space, and energy. I would nod. Understanding that of course, we all face obstacles. But she needed to take care of herself too, I’d say. Because how could she meaningfully show up for her work, and her people, and her life if she wasn’t tending to herself first? I posed the question rhetorically. Food for thought when she had the time to digest it.

And then I had a baby. “Me time” began to feel like sunlight shining slenderly through closed blinds. Tiny slivers of space to complete the items on my own agenda while simultaneously caring for this child who seemed like he needed every ounce of me. Retrospectively, telling another mother whose to-do list already felt a mile long to also make time to take care of herself felt like telling a person mid panic attack to simply relax.

I remember driving with my mom on my first solo outing to Trader Joe’s months into motherhood, scoffing at the idea of self-care. “I hardly have time to shower or unload the dishwasher. Let alone practice yoga for an hour. People make it seem so simple and it’s not.” The sentiment at its best felt frustrating and at its (or perhaps, my) worst felt enraging.

I struggled through the early days of motherhood to strike any semblance of balance between selfish and selfless. I wanted to be a good mom. I also wanted to be a happy mom. I began to wonder if the two could co-exist.

Eventually, my baby began to sleep through the night, and eat solid foods, and entertain himself by emptying out the contents of our kitchen cupboards. I, in turn, began to carve out moments that were mine. To think and write. To move my body and return text messages.

My metaphorical cup was seldomly filled to the brim but it wasn’t bone dry either. And that felt like a win.

Then, we had another baby. The newness and transition and juggling sent me straight back to that Trader Joe’s car ride. More than once, I found myself on the verge of a Jessie Spano, “there’s no time, never any time” meltdown.

Accompanying those moments of sheer overwhelm and exhaustion were shining moments too. Ones that boosted my spirit and my confidence. I vacillated between the two. Weary. Delighted. Critical. Compassionate. Overdrawn. Joyful. Feeling like I might be losing my mind as I ping ponged back and forth.

That is, until I stood in the shower one Sunday afternoon. Unglued for the first time that day from my kids, dogs, chores, and phone. Able to do my clearest thinking.

I considered the cue that I use to start so many yoga classes.

Inhale and fill up. Exhale and empty out.”

It isn’t either/or. It’s both/and.

To care for both my family and for myself. To prioritize both their needs and my own. To hold space for both ups and downs, and everything in between.

It’s 3:01 am as I type this. My eyelids feel heavy as I blink them open. And yet, here I sit, nursing my daughter in the rocking chair next to her crib. It turns out, we can in fact pour, even when our cup feels empty.

We’ll be up for the day in a couple hours. She’ll go in her swing and I’ll roll out my yoga mat in front of her. Inhaling to cow pose. Exhaling to cat. Taking time to tend to myself. Remembering how good it feels to fill up.

My body and breath reminding me that both the input and output are essential.


Featured image via pexels

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