How Lent is Teaching Me the Importance of Manicures

I didn’t anticipate how much the whole Lights-Out Lent thing would impact my blogging. I don’t usually blog at night, I usually blog in the morning. But turning the lights out after dark requires an absolute, total re-structuring of my life. Which I have only partially managed, thus the lights going off at half-past eight, mostly.

The first night was a rousing success, because I had literally been prepping to turn those lights out at 7 pm for two days. At 7 pm, the lights, they went out. The kids went to bed…except Lincoln. He likes to be held and patted. Forever.

So I sat in the rocking chair on Ash Wednesday, rocking and patting, staring into the candle light, and thought, “well, this is a great time to say a rosary!”

Oh my gosh. Something else I hadn’t realized: prayer requires concentration. My prayer life usually consists of me throwing up a Hail Mary or an Our Father or a “please God help me to not totally lose my mind” while one of the kids is in time-out. Evening prayers with the children are a cherished ritual, but forcing them to pay attention forces me to pay attention. And the rosary I always start when I finally go to bed rarely goes past the second decade before I’m sleeping.

I’ve known that prayer is something I really need to make a priority, which is why the lights-out thing seemed so appropriate. But I didn’t know that prayer was hard. I thought it would just be boring. (Don’t flay me alive, y’all. This is honesty time.)

Well, it’s hard. I would start a decade of the rosary and begin meditating on the Annunciation, and then ten minutes later would snap back to reality from out of a daydream wherein I write a terrible teenage lit bestseller, become a zillionare, gleefully write checks to Sallie “Soul-Eater” Mae, buy a giant above-ground wine cellar in Rome, renovate it so that it becomes a house whose walls are lined with wine, hire Kassie to nanny my kids, and then get another nanny so Kassie and I can just hang out and drink the walls.

After two hours of this, I was mostly dozing instead of daydreaming, so I put Lincoln down in his bassinet (where he stayed asleep at last) and just went to bed.

But reality hath shattered my dreams of candlelit evenings. It’s really hard to get dinner done, the kids fed, the kitchen cleaned, and life prepped for the next day by 7 pm. I’m eschewing legalism in favor of sanity, and just turning the lights out once those things are done. I am, however, being careful to not let “prepping for tomorrow” morph into “mopping the floors and folding that last load of laundry”. Anything that can wait, waits.

The downside is that I’m usually playing catch-up in the mornings, or trying to get ahead on chores so I can get the lights off close to sunset, and sitting-down-at-the-computer time has been the first thing on the chopping block.

The upside is that it’s really forced me to examine the way I live my life, instead of just frantically living it. As it turns out, I do not take care of myself at all. Not even a little bit. Sleep? Eh. Optional. 5 hours is sufficient. 6 hours is good. 7 hours is practically Rip Van Winkle’s Nap. After getting 9 hours of sleep that first night of Lent I was astounded at how happy I was, and how much energy I had.

Also, I realized that I don’t eat lunch. Often that’s because I want to cram a workout into Liam’s afternoon nap time, so I don’t want to eat before, but then I don’t eat after, and instead I sort of graze on the crusts of the kids’ PB&J sandwiches or grab a string cheese and then wash it down with five cookies or some chocolate. That realization was a little irritating, because it destroyed my internal narrative about my convex waistline being something that just happened to me in the wake of children, much like my hips spreading or my hair turning wavy.

As the Ogre and I were watching a movie on Saturday night (cause we’re doing Sundays from sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday) I decided, instead of folding baskets of laundry or balancing the budget or organizing mail, to give myself a pedicure and a manicure. This is one of those things that I usually wouldn’t do, since it’s so frivolous and there is REAL WORK that must be done. But I did it anyway. And I’m actually amazed at how much having filed, shaped nails and painted toenails has improved my entire disposition, and thus, the emotional health of my family.

Every time I write about struggling with my vocation, one or more people chime in and say some variation of “take time for yourself! Take care of yourself!” This is my reaction:

As it turns out, though, taking care of myself is, actually, not a waste of time. Sleeping makes me happier, more patient, and more cheerful. Working out gives me energy and releases tension. Eating lunch means that I don’t spend the afternoon eating everything else. And the simple act of giving myself a manicure made me look at my hands today and think, “do I really want to spend the rest of the day in my sweaty workout clothes, even if no one is going to see me? I think I’ll take a shower so my nails aren’t the only well-groomed thing about me.”And so I did. And it made me happy.

I could have organized the closets instead of showering and braiding my hair today, but I didn’t. And since the lights are going out tonight when the day is done, that means I won’t be organizing them until tomorrow. And if I don’t organize them tomorrow, or the next day, who cares, really? I’ll get to them eventually. And in the interim, my children can hug a mother who isn’t sticky, sweaty, and putting them in endless frustrated time-outs. The Ogre can come home to a wife who’s not wearing yoga pants and who smiles at him instead of grimacing. And I can walk out the front door, if I so desire, without desperately hoping that none of my neighbors are around to see that I still haven’t changed out of the t-shirt I was wearing yesterday afternoon, nor taken my hair out of its messy ponytail.

But that’s today. The Ogre’s parents are coming for a visit on Thursday, so I’m pretty sure that tomorrow I will care very much that the closets aren’t organized, and all revelations about my personal grooming habits and subsequent moments of peace will be so far off the back of the burners they’ll fall behind the stove.

That’s the infuriating irritating frustrating soul-killing funny thing about Lent. One day you’re swimming in peace and virtue, and the next day you’re cursing the liturgical calendar.

  • Martha

    I’m still working on this one…I’m not entirely sure that a clean house doesn’t make me feel better than a clean personal appearance…or maybe I’ve just given up on my appearance all together, and have decided to try to save the only thing I can on this sinking ship that is my life. :)

  • Ruth

    I definitely understand what you are saying, Calah. I find that when I am still in sweatpants at 3pm I feel much less accomplished and just like I have been more lazy. Taking the time to actually make myself look decent goes a long way in helping me feel productive, and in return actually motivates me to get more done!
    It also helps me that my husband comes from a completely different culture where the whole expectation that moms are frumpy, unkept is nonexistant. At first (my first child is only a year, so this was not that long ago) I found the whole thing rediculous. Really? You expect me to dress decently (a jeans and a sweater), put on some make up, shower regularly and find time to exercise ON TOP OF taking care of this new baby and the home and finding time to work? (I *try* to work from home). Now I am beginning to realize that it is not so much some unrealistic expectation, but rather a different outlook on motherhood. It is more of an idea that in having children, I am not supposed to completely lose myself as a woman and a wife, and that by taking care of myself, I can actually take better care of my family. There is also the idea in his culture that every family member represents the family when they are out in public, and you want to make a good impression. Kind of like you probably wouldn’t invite people over with a counter full of dirty dishes and dirty laundry everywhere. Just like you want to present your home well, you want to present yourself well. It has been a bit of a struggle to learn this less (I am writing this in sweatpants, I confess – though I am about to go change!), but I am starting to see the wisdom in it.

  • Cordelia

    Oh, Lord… Honestly, 99% of the time, I take all these insights and apply them to ME. And I am proud of my husband and his overwhelming care for us, and I love him, and I never complain about him. But this time – reading this – I’m crying a little and wishing he would take some time this Lent to just…relax. And sleep. And do things he enjoys. And be happy. And not feel guilty all the time about all the stuff he’s not getting done. I mean, the man works full-time at a stressful job, spends 8 hours a week commuting, has young five kids and a very pregnant and emotionally-needy wife…and drives himself into the ground every single day. I don’t know what a guy’s version of a manicure would be, but I do wish the dear man would cut himself some slack now and then. I faithfully do what I can, but there is really no way even a WIFE can make a man relax if he doesn’t want to…

  • Lark

    @Cordelia: sneak your lovely husband a relaxing manicure/pedicure/massage by asking him to “help you practice”! win/win

  • Corita

    This is really interesting. I had an epiphany today, too, about the *network* of habits that impact the end of the day. My Ash Wednesday-written Lenten observance was to go to bed at 10 pm. But doing that requires changing so much else about my day!!! I am working my way toward it now because of the sheer number of habits I have to alter in order to accomplish it: You are so right; it isn’t about just stopping and going to bed! This stuff has to be a culmination!

  • ashley.elise

    Such great insights, Calah. So why is it so darn hard to remember that taking care of ME directly feeds into taking better care of everyone else? But at least for the moment I’m now motivated to go take that shower and change into a cute outfit before my husband gets home. If only the baby will cooperate by not spitting up all over for an hour or so…

  • Joan

    it just dawned on me that this generation of women are the most violent in human history. At least in the US, these no good sluts killed over 50 million unborn a babies..