Nothing like seeing an old picture of yourself to serve up a big plateful of truth. You might thing I'm talking about aging, and I've certainly had my share of those moments--wait, I DID once have a waist, and other favorites--but no, I'm talking about delayed gratification. We went on vacation this summer to the beach near my sister's home. While we were there, we spent a day at her place. I wandered through her house, looking at pictures of us together from 7 or 8 years ago. And then, it hit me. The clothes. I had packed light for our weeklong trip since the kids had oodles of things they wanted to bring and we were driving. I had brought only 4 shirts. I was wearing 3 of them in the pictures on my sister's table. I suddenly realized: I HAVEN'T BOUGHT ALMOST ANY NEW CLOTHES IN 8 YEARS (maternity clothes excluded).
Now at least part of the reason is that I hate to shop. For anything. Truly hate it. I think clothes are fine, and occasionally I have been known to fall in love with an article of clothing, but I just cannot bear shopping, especially for clothing. Maybe it's the unforgiving dressing room lights. Maybe it's the chafing of taking on and off 2 dozen dresses. Maybe it's frugality, knowing that I will one day fall out of love with whatever I just spent that money on and will regret that I ever bought it. I don't like it much better online than in person, so maybe it's all sorts of things. As I looked at the pictures, I told myself, it's just that you don't like to shop. But here's the big plateful of truth that I grazed on as I drove home to our beach house that evening: I have come to think of delayed gratification as a way of life rather than part of life.
I think this problem began when I was a medical student. After 22 years of living largely in the moment, I was suddenly having to wait to satisfy even the most basic needs. Need to go exercise? Big exam in 48 hours, I probably should focus on that and exercise this weekend. Need to pee? Well, unfortunately I'm on the far end of a retractor in an abdomen, so I'll just hold it for about oh, 4 more hours. It only got worse as a resident. Need to eat? Oh, I have to pre-round, I'll just wait until lunch. Need to rest? Oh, 3 more admissions for in the ER, I'll sleep when I get home post-call...in 30 hours (this was pre-work hour restrictions). Want to go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas? Oh, I'm on call for Thanksgiving and taking every other night over Christmas, maybe next year. And on and on.
And then came kids. Suddenly there was a whole new set of things to postpone and a whole new set of reasons for the delayed gratification. I gave birth to 3 children in rapid succession, which meant that I was pregnant or nursing or pregnant AND nursing for literally almost 7 years. Want to get back in shape (not getting back to the original number on the scale, which has never been a problem for me fortunately, but REALLY back in shape...as in NOT looking like a mom)? Why bother? Hardly worth busting my butt for 6 months to get sixpack abs only to stretch everything out all over again a few months later. I'll wait. How about new carpet? Well, the toddler is potty-training. And the baby spits up milk every time she is vertical and sometimes when she's not. We'll do it in a few years once the kids are older. Maybe a nice bra purchased this decade? Oh, I'm nursing, so I'll just stick with this worn out one that I can pull down to nurse or pump and wait to get something pretty until I'm done and know what size I will end up. Ok, well, you can at least have some lunch. Hungry? Yep, starving, I'll eat in a minute...right after I nurse the baby and put her down for a nap, unload the dishwasher, switch the laundry to the dryer...
I have come to the conclusion that medical careers and mothering represent the perfect storm for training women to put off their own needs and desires eternally. Are you living in a state of delayed gratification? Is it necessity? Or habit? And if you're not, please tell the rest of us your secret!