I was standing in line at the Victoria's Secret store on 34th Street the other day, reciting a little ditty to myself in my head. Should I, shouldn't I, should I, shouldn't I?
No, I wasn't debating a frilly, lacy number the size of an eye patch. I was considering ordinary cotton underpants that I put on each day. Over the past two decades, I'd never hesitated purchasing things for my two daughters, one step-daughter and one unofficially-adopted Ethiopian daughter at this store. I'd had no problem buying boxer shorts for my two sons, step-son and my husband, Jonny, too. But I'd always balked at swiping the credit card for myself until I decided to start the wildest affair with the one person who could use my love more than anyone else in the world: me. And this Valentine's Day, I'm celebrating.
I've never loved myself. I've always been a perfectionist who has never met my own exacting standards. Never satisfied with my accomplishments, I bawl myself out for zigging when I should have zagged. Maybe it was because I grew up with a mother whose life was dipped in sorrow. I took her disappointment in life as a disappointment in me, proof that I was a failure. This sense of failure blossomed into self-loathing. When one of my friends once told me she also felt like a pile of s--t, I said, "You're so lucky you feel like a pile of s--t! I just feel like a piece!"
Then, this past autumn, out bicycling one day, I passed a park where mothers were playing with their children. I watched as a young girl fell down and her mother ran to comfort her. Kneeling, the mother draped her arms around the girl, offering soothing words of consolation. I was enthralled. It dawned on me that after more than five decades on the planet, I could -- and should -- love myself.
The first tool I started to use was active listening. When the kids tell me they have a bad day, for instance, I always repeat, "Oh, you've had a bad day," reinforcing that they were heard. I used this idea to zero in on myself, checking in throughout the day. I'd ask myself, are you lonely? Tired? Angry? Or just hungry? Then I could take care of myself instead of taking out my frustrations on everyone else. That was the listening tool.
Next came the learning. Learning who I really was -- not who everyone expected me to be. Which was how I stumbled upon my inner tomboy. During a run by myself, I spotted a gorgeous tree and climbed it as high as I could go. Tucked among the branches, smelling the fresh earth from below and feeling as if I could touch the sky above me, I came to understand the true me inside me.
Finally, the lovin'. My children didn't learn to love themselves on their own; it was up to me to reinforce that they were loveable. "Did I tell you today that I love you?" I always asked. I was too shy to say "I love you" to my own face, but I placed a Post-it note in the bathroom that said, "You can travel all over the world, but you'll never find anyone who deserves your love as much as you."
Schmaltzy? Definitely. But couldn't we all use a little extra loving this year? It doesn't take a lot. But it means so much. On Valentine's Day and every other day, we can find a way to celebrate... ourselves.
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