There’s something I’m struggling with these days. I’m afraid that I’m not contributing enough. A new form for guilt has entered my life that has both surprised me and left me curious. To explain, let me tell you about an amazing – and very enjoyable – experience I had a few days ago. Perhaps you’ll have had similar thoughts and feelings. Maybe you’ll have some good advice to share.
The day started early; I got up at 6 a.m. to finish preparing for the ESL class I was going to teach in that day. I’d start with using the newspaper to highlight both significant current events, to emphasize grammar points, and introduce new vocabulary. The paper that comes to the class doesn’t come to my front door so my sweet David was kind enough to go out really early and get me the paper so I could sip my latte at 6 a.m. and plan my teaching. What would I do without him? So … I taught until 2:30 and then came home. I had a couple of hours before my Bar Mitzvah student would arrive so decided I’d head around the corner to my Mignon – my favorite nails place – and get a pedicure. A little indulgence in a busy day; good thing, right?
Just as I left home to walk down to Mignon it started to drizzle. I called David, who was on his way home and only a few blocks away, and he stopped by to pass me an umbrella from the car just in case it was raining harder by the time I’d be heading home myself. With a fresh latte in hand I entered Mignon, picked my colour (a nice purplish-blue) and climbed up onto the pedicure chair. Ahhhh!!!! With my feet soaking in warm, soapy water I could finally relax. And that’s when this great conversation began. I actually don’t know the name of the woman I was talking with (I’ll have to follow up on that); meanwhile I’ll refer to her as NW – nice woman – and myself as ME. Care to share the jist of this conversation? It begins just after NW has asked if her nails are dry enough for her to leave and was told she’d have to wait another 20 minutes.
ME: Good idea. If we could land a rocket on the moon you’d think we could do this. It should be instant-drying, permeable, long lasting and fade-resistant. What do you think?
NW: All good ideas. You know, if men had to put up with this – sitting and waiting for half an hour after a job was done – they’d have figured this out a long time ago. Just like they’d have come up with something less painful for mammograms if men were asked to put their penis’ through this procedure every few years.
We got into talking, then, about just how much time women spent making our bodies more presentable. There’s manicures and pedicures, and there’s also hair-colouring, waxing, shaving, plucking, threading, applying make-up and on and on it goes. At this point I shared an anecdote with her that David had told me. Years and years ago, when we were studying in Israel (in the late 60s) it was common for women to not shave under their arms. He told me how awful it had been when he had to stand on crowded buses with all of these unshaved women on very hot, humid days. I asked him if he’d shaved under his arms? Did he think that standing on those buses with men who were usually taller than I was – and equally sweat-responsive to the heat and humidity – had been a picnic? He had never thought about that before. Funny that. Anyhow, after telling NW this story we both agreed that perhaps it was time for men to “clean up” a bit.
This led to talking about the ways in which men not only have to “clean up” but also have to figure out what “partnership” means; we both agreed that by and large men are still “helping out” instead of taking real shared responsibility for things like household chores and child care. Of course, as was inevitable, my recent retirement came into the conversation; I told NW about the blog (think she’s reading along now) and how in some ways the sharing had slipped in our household since I retired. Somehow it’s assumed that I have lots of spare time to run errands and do things that would have previously been David’s jobs. Reflects, I think, a devaluing of post-income-earning time. Leads me to feeling sort of guilty about doing things like having pedicures; after all, if I’m not earning money why do I deserve such indulgences. NW was wonderful in her response to this: she adamantly told me to keep having pedicures and realize that my lifetime of hard work is what earned this for me. “Have no guilt”, she said, “you deserve this time to take care of yourself.”
And that’s what I’m struggling with right now. How to build enough time into each day for taking care of myself? How to structure my days so that exercise, and relaxation, and even some indulgence is built into the schedule? How to not fear (translates as guilt of course) that I’m being “a slug” and not contributing enough?
The conversation ended with our discussion of how important taking care of ourselves is, especially as we get a little older. I told her about my metatarsal arthritis and my need to particularly pamper my feet. With pedicures.
With …. and as always this is where the conversation landed … good, comfortable shoes
It always comes back to shoes doesn’t it?
Shoes and guilt.