‘We can find great comfort in caring for someone or something else’
To nurture is to be nurtured even if it is more difficult to do so in these times
Brigid O’Dea: ‘Now, more than ever, it’s important to take time to look after oneself. All of us.’ Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
I miss my niece. She was born before the pandemic and the new-born that she is, changes every week. She makes noises now! We catch up regularly over video-chat. These calls are just as chaotic as were my visits. Tears are shed, vomit spewed, songs sung to calm.
The intimacy of it makes me feels less separated.
Often on my bad head days, pre-pandemic, I would visit my niece. I could sit for hours on end without distraction, with her resting on my chest. Even in extreme pain, I would enter an almost meditative state. Despite the screaming, there’s something very soothing about cradling a baby.
To nurture is to be nurtured.
Unfortunately, I can no longer comfort myself with my niece and the balm of her milky aroma. Video chat offers some substitute but it’s not the same. I can’t rock her when she cries, or bounce her, take her to the mirror and show her our reflection. I can’t plant a kiss on her head and tell her I’m sorry that she’s sad.
I do, however, have some babies of my own here that I tend to with great care. The first are of a yeast variety. My SCOBY, or Kombucha baby, has been living with me for quite a while now. He’s thriving, the dote! More of a personality than a looker. His sister, the sourdough starter, takes a bit more care. But she’s younger and not yet so robust. The yeast siblings have a set of cousins, in the plant variety. There are the Outdoor Plants who haven’t fared quite so well, and the Indoor Plants who are flourishing!
I happily pass the hours tending to these living beings. Watering them, and feeding them, watching them grow. I shuffle about in my dressing gown, prod them unscientifically, have a sniff. It’s as much about the activity as the end results.
You see, when you are living in a body that just doesn’t feel nice, there is something rewarding about engaging in an activity that is sensorially pleasing. To feel the dough stretch between your hands or the earth fall through your fingers, is nurturing. Some call it mindful, to me it feels beautifully mindless.
I remember when I began yoga and the feeling of how my body actually felt nice as I stretched; an unfamiliar feeling. Many of us have a complicated relationship with our bodies. We know it as a source of pain and tend to “other” it. We speak of our body as separate to us. But the fact is, it isn’t. We are part of our body and our body, part of us. Our bodies can bring us great pleasure, as they can great pain. It is important to find activities that nurture these bodies too.
I find it funny that I chose to write as a career, when my head is the source of my pain (due to chronic migraine). I demand so much from it. It seems a bit cruel. I also considered becoming a florist, but that would have been too physically demanding for my health. Still, I often daydream about a future spent arranging flowers.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to take time to look after oneself. All of us. This may not be so easily done in the constrains of the current climate. Perhaps those who once nurtured us, are not within our households, or that which we found nurturing is no longer within reach. And what works for me, may not work for you. Yeast is very smelly after all!
However, if I have learned one thing from my six-month-old niece (indeed I’ve learned a lot!) it’s that we can find great comfort in caring for another. This need not be a human. Like me, you can choose to care for other non-human living beings. You can tend to plants or pets, or home-brews. You might choose to reach out to those you love digitally or by mail (but note: plants don’t respond too well to this!). You might say something nice to the person you live with or to a socially distanced stranger.
Equally, remember that others too will take comfort in caring for you. We might often feel like a burden, or undeserving, but it brings pleasure to others to give kindness to those they care for. For them too, this is nurturing.