While out to dinner with my sorority sisters, my linesister commented that she was very inspired with how I have handled parenting my son who has special needs, making sure to still get out, enjoy life, and take care of myself. She said that she has never once heard me complain, and her note of how I've carried myself truly resonated and inspired me to write this Valentine's post.
It's been 11 years today since my life flipped upside down, in more ways than one, hearing the news that my little boy I'd carried 9 months, who had comforted and given me hope as my then husband ran off with a mistress, had Down Syndrome. It was my little boy who was my hope that carried me through New Year's Eve 2005, New Year's Day 2006 and throughout the first month of 2006 anticipating his arrival. I was excited! A little boy that would love me like only sons do. Who would he look like? What would he become? But on Feb. 11, 2006, that hope was shattered with the announcement that my son, my inspiration, my hope was not the boy I'd dreamed, but rather a son that would need me to be the best me for the rest of his life.
Those months that followed weren't easy. I went through a tumultuous break up, was abandoned in a house that my salary couldn't afford, with two children including a newborn who would develop Infantile Spasm in his second month of life and a host of visits to doctors, therapists, and visits from social service to make sure I was handling this transition with a special needs child. If not enough, I somehow convinced myself to enroll in college to obtain a Master's degree.
One day, I was in the garage looking for something through boxes that had been packed for years when I came across memories of who I was before marriage, before motherhood, before life. It dawned on me that I'd somehow lost the person I had always known myself to be. As I looked at those pictures from college, I felt like I was a stranger. Who was this woman that had taken over the spirit of this vibrant, driven, and optimist girl?
As wives and mothers, we have a tendency to lose ourselves in our families. We sacrifice dreams, goals, friends, jobs and so much of who we are to be what our children and our husbands need. I had to learn to take care of self in order to be the best mother my daughter and my son deserved. For me, that meant being able to rely on me, getting myself back to that pageant girl, finding new girlfriends, taking mental breaks, and keeping a visual journal of my children and my journey through this process. It meant progressing in my career, pushing myself beyond my expectations, and yes, loving myself.
Contrary to what society wants us to believe, it's not narcissistic to take care of self. It is not narcissistic to put effort into what you look like, what you want to be, or what you want to do. It's actually healthy. I believe by watching me, I have developed a very secure young woman in my daughter who demonstrates self-love and self-empowerment.
So, this Valentine's Day as we celebrate our partners and our children, take a little moment to love and appreciate yourself. Put on your red lipstick, let down your hair. Not for your man, but for yourself.
Women, you deserve it!