Other women don’t tell you taking care of yourself is the hardest part.

That after you’ve taken care of your child, your partner, the dog, the cats, your parents, and at least some of the house, you won’t have the energy to take care of yourself. Not in the sense of putting on make-up or doing your hair or the external things that make people look “taken care of”—those come and go—but to really take care of the you that is underneath, that kind of care takes a lot more energy than you often have, or maybe think you have.

You think about this walking in the drizzle the Tuesday after Memorial Day, having dropped your son off at daycare, your parents at the train station, your husband at home sick—after your son had been home sick the entire week before and the congestion still lingers heavy in your chest. You think about pausing. To breathe. To turn off your phone. To sit down on a bench and inhale this brief regression in the weather, this glimpse of a between Spring and Summer chill.

To slow your brain just long enough. To stop trying to respond to that text or email that can’t wait. To stop planning what needs to happen in the next hour or this evening or next week. To stop worrying about all the things that you haven’t taken care of yet. To pause and be at peace with yourself. That’s a kind of care you need but never take. Even when others tell you to and say they will help—like the nap your mother made you take yesterday, which your body needed but mind hated, still thinking how she was folding your son’s clothes while you slept. Thinking how you could and should always be doing more. Turning off these thoughts is a kind of care that actually requires a lot out of you because it means you have to give up a part of yourself. To stop being a mother—just for an instant.

Mother, literally “to take care of,” always puts you in the position of taking care of something or someone else, rather than yourself. And even before you were a mother, you took on this role, perhaps as a way to avoid taking care of yourself. As a way to not ever have to put yourself first. But today, right now, you are doing it . You are putting yourself first by writing this. By trying, yet again, to do what you love on a regular basis. To do what you love for yourself. To turn everything else off, slow down the mind, and let the words come, about motherhood and relationships and writing and all the in-betweens. And with each word, you are taking care of yourself, but also, longing to take care of someone else. Because your motherhood is ever-learning and ever-evolving, and that means learning how to mother, to take care of yourself.

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