"When I start my period, I give myself the day off." I was seventeen when Patti confided this to me, and twenty years later, I still hear her words.
When I was a senior in high school, my parents and younger siblings moved to Pennsylvania for my dad's job, but they let me stay behind in our small Oklahoma town to finish high school. Patti and her husband and three kids (including my dear friend Trisha) took me in and loved me through the turbulence of those months that mark the tremulous transformation from child to young adult.
I guess I remember Patti's words about her monthly day off because it stood in such remarkable contrast to the rest of her life. Her days were full not only with mothering but also professional and creative pursuits. Her life brimmed with activity, but as I recall, this one day she would cancel as much as her schedule would allow and stay in her pajamas if she possibly could. And I remember her being completely unapologetic about it, too. This is my day off. A flag she planted in the map of each month.
And here I am, two decades later, finally realizing the wealth of wisdom in this practice.
It is a practice that makes me feel connected not only to Patti, but to the rituals of ancient cultures when menstruation meant seclusion from family and community. Days off required by the culture must have been a welcome relief from the perpetual physical labor of caring for a family in those times.
When the postpartum months following the birth of my children finally yielded to the return of normal cycles, I was surprised each time by the alarming intensity the beginning of my cycle brings. In fact, these days the first day of my cycle is so intense, I have almost no choice but to stay close to home.
It has only been in the past year that I've stopped fighting against this New Normal to take the path that Patti marked for me, the one I have to imagine is one well-tread by women of the long-ago past. In the season of mothering, it's all too rare to be given the day off; if it's a day of rest and gentleness I am craving, then I'll have to take it myself.
original picture by Laura D'Alessandro
So that's what I'm doing today. I'm thinking of Patti, who four years ago next month lost a long and brave battle with cancer, and I'm lifting a mug of hot tea to her smiling memory. I'm indulging in a new book, and I'm taking the path of minimal energy with my kids and my chores and my mind. I took a shower and got into a fresh set of pajamas, and I'm keeping the shutters closed, tangible reminders that today, I'm off-duty.
The only wall of resistance I find myself bumping into, however, is the one our current culture built in my mind. There is a part of me that resists this secret sabbath, a voice that speaks in disapproving tones of laziness and selfishness, of the shame of taking so many steps back for women everywhere, of setting an example for my own daughters that is weak and self-indulgent.
But I continue to quietly pushback against those lies, knowing in my heart that sabbath never about self-indulgence - it's about self-care. Sabbath is never about shame - it's about choosing restoration and healing. Sabbath is is never about weakness - it's about possessing the strength to choose rest.
And in the same way Patti showed me a new ritual in the midst of the mundane for marking these days, I hope to teach my daughters how to walk this path as well. I'll risk the awkwardness to extend to them this same invitation to take it easy as each new cycle begins, and I'll hope that from the start, they'll see the worth in slowing down to honor the wonder of womanhood, no matter how uncomfortable this skin may be at times.
But for today, I'm staying curled up in my cozy chair, unwrapping the good chocolate and laughing wtih my kids and dreaming of a warm bath for Mama after bedtime, mindful but not bemoaning the ache and the necessity of the day.