When I was younger I remember being very aware of the idea of being high maintenance versus low maintenance. And I remember being very sure that there was certainly a winner of those two options. I was convinced that being low maintenance was the thing that was sought after by friends, future spouses, heck, even employers. And I may have let that idea hold me back from things because they would make me “high maintenance.”
In some instances that ended up being a good thing. In high school I went to the tanning bed all winter. I was a swimmer and a cheerleader in Indiana, and so my bare legs were as white as the snow on the ground. I hate to say we didn’t know how bad tanning beds were, because it seems so obvious now that if bathing in the real sun is bad…lying on lightbulbs in our underpants probably wasn’t our best idea either. I stopped going to the tanning bed sometime in college. I would like to tell you it was for health reasons but honestly it just cost a lot of money! We are an active family (my husband coaches football and all of my kids play outdoor sports: baseball, softball, and swimming) so most of my life is outside. And now we live in North Carolina where the sunshine is the best feature right up there with the blue skies and mountains-to-sea views, so I certainly still embrace the sun. But I kicked the tanning bed goodbye.
In high school I also highlighted my hair. A lot. There is a picture of me from my senior year where I’m darn near white-blonde. I don’t think you could describe my natural hair color in any way that even uses the word blonde. I have dark hair. And now I love it. I stopped coloring my hair right after I got engaged to my wonderful husband. I have occasionally used a box color, but between the expense of a stylist and my inability to find an hour without a kid in tow, I have mostly said goodbye to the beauty salon. Even getting my hair cut probably happens twice a year at best.
There was a teacher in my high school who made an off-hand comment to my dad that I had developed “Senior-itis” during first semester…and my dad liked to joke that it was because I showed up at school in sweatpants so frequently. This habit has been a little bit harder to kick. Although leggings have replaced sweatpants for women these days, and I usually will even change into jeans after I get cleaned up from my workout, I still find myself in some version of jeans and t-shirt most days of my life. Sidenote: I had 4 new tshirts arrive in the mail yesterday. Only 3 had football teams on them…I think that’s a step in the right direction? Whatever.
I washed my face with whatever cheap product I could find at Target. I still buy my makeup through the Lowes to Go curbside grocery service as often as anywhere else. (Although my friend Jenn did show me the light and lead me to using Rodan+Fields products, so I’m at least on track in one area!) And all of those things seemed like a win for a long time. See? I’m low-maintenance.
But the truth was, as much as anything, I just didn’t know how to feel comfortable doing anything else. When I would put on heels I felt like a little girl playing dress up. And my husband is the perfect height for me to be in heels! He towers over me by at least 9 inches. When I really style my hair or wear make up it feels a little bit off. But to be honest I think I’ve finally reached that point in life (hello mid-30s!) that I am ready to give myself a little bit more time. I don’t have sleepless nights from babies needing to be fed around the clock. I could probably spend the same amount of money on a dress as a pair of shorts and a tee (heck, maybe less! And I’d stay cooler!) But that idea of self-care being high maintenance is hard to shake.
I think I’ve finally started to understand that being low maintenance doesn’t mean you don’t take care of yourself, (That would be more like not maintained) but instead means that you don’t expect other people to change their lives around to account for your desires and demands. Being someone who doesn’t make the days harder for those around them, that’s low maintenance. Being someone who doesn’t make other people feel like they have to act/look/behave a certain way to be comfortable together, that’s low maintenance.
Perhaps the area where this struck the deepest with me was the area of my life where I wasn’t ACTUALLY low maintenance, but I pretended to be. After having kids, especially after having a lot of kids, people start to compliment you in terms of how you look “for having 5 kids.” I started to hear it a lot “Wow! You look good for having 5 kids!” and then people would ask how. And I would laugh and say something dumb like “I never have time to eat!” or “I just chase these kids around all day.” Um. I wake up at 5 am and work out. I feed my family organic, healthy meals and avoid bread. I drink water and black coffee and maybe have a glass of wine every two months. Why was I pretending I wasn’t trying hard? Why did that seem like the thing to do? Did we learn this at some point…this pretending that we aren’t really working hard at something that is important to us? Certainly I would not make a bunch of friends by listing those things off in a casual encounter at the grocery store…but I probably also would have made a new mom feel a little better to know that I didn’t just walk out of the hospital fitting into my pre-baby clothes after each birth. (Did anyone else do that? Bring pre-baby clothes to the hospital thinking they would fit? If they did fit you, don’t tell me! With baby #1 I had to suck it up and wear the yoga pants I wore into the hospital back home. Oops!)
At the end of the day I am happy to be at a place in my life where I feel comfortable pushing myself to be uncomfortable sometimes. On Easter Sunday I told my husband the one thing I wanted was to wear my beautiful new dress all day long. (Around 1 he suggested cleaning out the garage so I grumbled and changed into shorts for an hour and then switched back!) And I got my hair cut a few weeks ago when rain led to a cancelled softball game and an hour where Nick could watch the kids while I ran out (even though we immediately left to hike and camp in the rain and my salon-fresh hair was ruined…the cut was still worth it!) I painted my nails with my girls the other day (the hard part for me is remembering to take the polish off now that it’s chipped…there is a learning curve here, folks!) and I am giving myself time and permission to read and to write when I could be checking things off the to-do list. Because it’s okay to take care of ourselves. And it couldn’t hurt to do some maintenance every once in a while!