by Natalie Christensen
When I hear that hyphenated word I automatically picture a spa, or at least a very clean bathroom with a gigantic tub and floating rose petals. I imagine really good hair and glowing skin. I imagine an empty yoga room and deep, quiet breaths. I imagine spiritual chanting and fancy tea.
This is not my life.
The yoga pants I’m wearing right now have a hole in the butt.
My sacred space for self-care is not littered with rose petals. It is not within an empty room. It is not even solitary. My sacred space is about six feet by five feet. The west edge is bordered by one sleeping yellow lab in his baby-pool-sized bed. The north is hemmed in by the three bar stools of our kitchen breakfast bar. The east bumps into the all-purpose computer desk where we run three businesses. And the south edge is framed by a tribal rug covered with Polly Pockets, a chessboard, doll figurines, and other flotsam essential to our daughter’s imaginary worlds.
I love this space.
In years past, pre-kids, pre-partner, with whole days yawning before me, I walked leisurely to a studio downtown. I practiced for over two hours, lingered afterward for a chat, and then sauntered back home again, hardly feeling a dent in the volume of time at my disposal. These days I trot to the hall closet, haul the guinea pig cage out of the way in order to open the door, and wrangle a mat from beneath our winter coats. I glance at the clock, re-check the to-do list, and calculate the number of minutes available.
Though I still remember my yoga practice, and though I go months whipping my body through the gymnastic moves of Ashtanga, lately I use my sacred space to crunch, lift, and squat my way through the barked commands of Jillian Michaels and her videos that promise to get me “ripped” and “shredded.” When she screams at me to “rep it out” in a side lunge, I accidentally whip my arm into my daughter’s head. When she orders me to “grab my weights,” I slip my clunky river sandals onto my hands.
I sweat and feel silly and try hard.
My girls chime in occasionally, commenting on the backup dancers and letting me know when I have missed a rep. They ask me what a “trouble zone” is and why one would want to “target” such a thing. I pant my way through definitions adjusted to promote positive body images. I sacrifice a few breaths to talk about my own motivations to feel strong and powerful, skipping the words fat and skinny altogether.
Henry, the yellow lab, can’t help but get involved as well. My jumping and lunging often coordinates with his lunchtime, so at precisely eleven-fifty-nine his belly sounds an alarm and he joins me on the mat to remind me of the clock. He lets his face be smacked and walloped by my swinging aerobic arms and, when possible, sneaks licks of any available sweaty parts. I jog over to dump kibble in his bowl, barely skipping a beat. Henry rejoices, inhaling the pile in one huff, then returning triumphantly to hump his dog bed.
Sacred space, I’m telling you.
Sometimes my partner Nathan joins me. We squeeze his six-foot-five frame into the space, staggering our bodies so that we can synchronize our jumping jacks without killing each other. The girls gather around, sure not to miss the spectacle of two parents working it. Under Nathan’s gaze the video feels even sillier, but also difficult. When I see him having to work hard, it sends it home that I am working hard, that, though in my kitchen, and though among children and pets, and life clutter, my muscles are making a serious effort.
It isn’t pretty. It will never make a magazine spread—in fact, please don’t drop by at this sweaty carnival moment—but it gives me what I need. I need something to link my mind to my body. I need something that allows me to check off body/health/spirit concerns from my list every day. I need something that makes peace between it all—between the thoughts, sensations, and aesthetics. That bouncing and huffing (along with a daily, never missed, dog walk to the river), does this for me.
Even with holes in my yoga pants, even without rose petals, even with tangly hair, even with clutter on my countertop, even though I spend almost every single minute of every single day in the company of my children, if you asked me whether or not I succeed at self-care, I would boldly say YES.
I find it here, without having to be away from my family, without having to make anyone else do anything different, without having to wait for pretty or convenient circumstances. Really, that’s one of the best ways to take care of myself, to not wait for things to be perfect, but to leap and jump and pant right where I am. It isn’t what I would readily imagine, but, for now, it’s exactly right.
“Parenting with Empathy.”
Natalie Christensen is a writer, illustrator, and mother living in Missoula, Montana. She is co-creator of Feeleez, a line of tools that support the emotional development of children. She offers life + parenting coaching and on most days can be found on the banks of the Clark Fork river with her family and her yellow dog.