Just Relax – Week #2
Learning how to relax is an art form. At least for me, it is. For as long as I can remember I never saw my mother relaxing. My father on the other hand was quite the expert in relaxation but that’s another essay. Relaxing and doing nothing was not honored at the Bautista household. My mother ran the show. She was the boss. That was very clear. And she did it with a coño, with talking loudly and with prayers under her breath, all at once it seemed like, while always doing something.
On Saturday mornings, the five of us were awoken by her yells, announcing who was doing what chore and she wouldn’t stop until we woke up. If we had Catechism (CCD) that particular Saturday, then the screaming started even earlier. Saturdays were for resting, for relaxing or so I thought. Most of my friends got to sleep in on Saturdays. If we got to sleep after 10 am that was a big deal. On Sundays, we went to Church. After Church, we visited with family. By the time we got home we had barely enough time to get ready for school the next day. In fact, the only time I ever saw my mom relax was when she was in the hospital, a forced relaxation so to speak.
Growing up my mom had frequent hospital stays due to one thing or another and the diagnoses was often inconclusive. My siblings and I were convinced that she admitted herself into the hospital because that was the only place she was guaranteed to be pampered, night and day. When she was hospitalized, my dad scrambled. He did his best to comb our curly, kinky hair, into big buns on top of our hair, all four of us. He would delegate tasks to each of us to help him out except for my brother. I love him to death but he hardly ever got assigned any chores. He was the niño mimado. He just had to smile and go to school. Ok, occasionally he took out the garbage.
Recently, my mother fell off her way too high bed and she went to the emergency room. Thankfully she didn’t have any broken bones however she is sore and in a lot of pain. After the X-rays and the thorough examination, she was sent home with orders to rest and take Tylenol. What did she do the next day? She organized her clothes, fussed around in her room, everything but what the doctor ordered her to do. I propped her up in her recliner couch, put her tv on and demanded she rest. She did for about an hour or two. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t relax.
Perhaps she had a hard time resting her body and her mind because she had been throught some thangs. Maybe, it was because she had spent most of her youth and young adult life taking care of 11 other siblings, and neighbors and her father’s business. She describes her upbringing, with an agitated look on her face, as a hardworking one filled with cleaning dirty diapers of babies that were born every year, cleaning mondongo then later cleaning and ironing her adult brother’s clothes. Or it could be because she raised five children, in the projects during the crack era, the oldest and youngest were only 5 years apart. My mother was busy. She never sat on the couch like most Latina mom’s watching novelas. My dad would watch them and my mom would walk by cursing at the tv and him.
Unfortunately, like many, I did not learn the task of relaxing from my mom and inherited her restlessness. My dad, on the other hand, did relax, every Monday. He took Mondays off to rest and he did just that. He sat on the couch and read his Spanish graphic novels and he played hand games and cards with the five of us. Or if the weather was good he would go to the park and sit on the bench and read. He was a self-taught, avid reader. My mom would walk by him and murmur something sarcastic on the way to put a load in the washer as if relaxing was a crime. If we were caught sitting on our beds or in the living room lounging, she immediately found something for us to do, siempre con un coño.
I have to admit that I have always had a hard time relaxing. I remember being in high school having a part time job after school, being active in the church youth group, being active in a social action youth group and being part of the parish council while volunteering in a local shelter for single moms and their babies. On top of that, I was in the band at my high school, and the daughters of Mary, the legion of Mary, and I hung out with friends. I am probably forgetting something. I know I had a lot on my plate. I loved looking at my schedule and my heart felt full. But I was also really exhausted longing for a vacation to rest.
Unlike many of the families I knew, we didn’t take family vacations altogether. When my parents went to Dominican Republic they alternated taking one or two of the kids as they couldn’t afford for all of us to go. The trips were never relaxing. We went to the beach maybe once or twice during the two-week period and most of the time was spent visiting family time and running errands. So even on vacation, my mom didn’t relax.
Don’t get me wrong I am so appreciative of a mother that taught us the importance of sharing your gifts talents and abilities to the world although she didn’t frame it that way. She taught us the importance of serving others, serving God and doing things productive with our time. We lived in the PJs, in the 80s and 90s, where crackheads and drug dealers roamed the hallways and parks so there was plenty for her to worry about when it came to her children. Her desire for us to be productive and successful was evident in her encouragement for us to be involved in so many activities. And you know what? She did a damn good job. I think we are doing ok, except most of us have a hard time relaxing.
A few days before the new year, I got very sick and was forced to relax for a few days. I am a mother of three, a wife, a daughter, a sibling in a tight nit family, a cousin, a niece. And then I am a social worker, a PhD student, a writer, I am on two non-profit boards as well as an adjunct lecturer. I wear many hats currently but all that I do is aligned with my mission and vision in life. If it does not align with my purpose in life, I don’t get involved. We spend so much time taking care of others that at times we lose ourselves in the process. I find that I am a better mom when I am doing things without my kids that invigorate me, and make me feel alive. While I love spending time with my family I couldn’t imagine not being able to enjoy my time with my girlfriends having coffee, contemplating life, discussing goals and our purpose. I have been meditating daily and it’s a struggle as my mind races thinking about all the things I have done what I want to do and what I am doing. I love spending time with friends and family and also know the importance of treasuring and nurturing those. I am also learning the importance of taking care of Cindy and relaxing.
Thankfully, I have a loving husband who can appreciate a woman with purpose, with a large nuclear family and with the need to learn how to relax more regularly. He reminds me to sit still at least once a week. Besides, how can we possibly give of ourselves without replenishing our energy.
Last fall, I moved in with my aging mom in a home in Yonkers, We live upstairs and she lives downstairs. Every morning my children, husband and I line up to give my mother a kiss and get our blessing for the day. One morning this week my mom complained again of the pain on her side because of the fall. She said she had to go to the emergency room. “No, Mami, Usted lo que necista es descansar. Usted sabe lo que es eso?” She laughed and said, “Yo ni se como! ” One of my goals for 2017 is to teach my soon to be 79-year-old mother how to relax.
Just Relax. That’s what the acupuncturist from Harlem Chi Community Acupuncture told me during my first visit. When I walked in for my first-time appointment, I was surprised to be greeted by a Black woman. I was delighted. I had never gone to an acupuncturist for relaxation and never by a person of color. After filling out preliminary paperwork and meeting briefly she walked me into a beautiful, spacious sun lit room. I must say that I was a bit skeptical at first. I was directed to sit on a chair that reclined and one by one she inserted the needles in various pressure points. When she was done, she smiled and said, “Just Relax.” Little did she know how hard it was for me to do that. I am happy to report that I was able to relax. As a matter of fact, I napped for an hour and a half. I felt so refreshed afterwards. In 2017, I am committed to trying new things and for challenging myself. Relaxing is part of that challenge and I am ready to take it on full force. I encourage you to do the same. Just Relax.