A Little Teapot

Self-care is about more than candles and Epsom salt baths and exercise and sleep and saying no, says Morningside trainer Dionne Grayman. 

Dionne GraymanI remember being younger, a little person, probably in Pre-K, and singing this song:

“I’m a little teapot, short and stout
Here is my handle, here is my spout
When I get all steamed up, hear me shout
Just tip me over and pour me out!”


I’m sure—or at least I’m hoping – that this had some connection to whatever the term for “social and emotional learning” was back then. Because today, in my adult mind, the image of a teapot and steam is pointing me towards the critical importance of self-care.

I know, I know. It has become one of those THINGS that everybody is “doing.” And as THE THING to do, it may also be generating guilt and shame if you are someone who is unclear or unsure about self-care, or believes that it isn’t for you. You won’t ask about this, of course, because then somebody will know you don’t know – and as an educator, not knowing something is a cardinal sin.

My first offering to you is to be gentle with yourself and give yourself “grace” (yet another term that some folks are struggling with because IT has also become a thing). Simply, don’t beat yourself up for messing up, missing a step, not knowing everything. Those self-talk strategies that you’ve been sharing with your students also apply to you.

My second offering goes back to the teapot. Before the pandemic shutdown, I had a conversation with a woman who was talking to me about the state of depletion. She had me imagine that I was holding a teacup and saucer (old school). She said that whatever was in the teacup was for me and me alone and whatever spilled over into the saucer was what I had to share with others. She called that abundance. If the saucer was empty and I had to pour into others from my cup, that was depletion.

I had been in the habit of pouring into others from the cup because I wasn’t even aware that I should have had a saucer in the first place. See, I thought self-care was about candles and Epsom salt baths and exercise and sleep and staying hydrated and saying no. And, honestly, none of that was happening consistently. (Say no???) 

Feeling depleted was my normal, my default operating system. But because I was constantly pouring into others from my cup as a demonstration of love, care, commitment, responsibility, and obligation, I thought I was doing something, doing “the work.” Until that woman told me I was acting from a place of depletion and doing so was not the demonstration of love, care, commitment, responsibility, and obligation that I thought. I know, right? We’re just going to pause right here. Take some breaths.

Friend, that breath was self-care. Self-care is simply giving yourself what you need so that you can pour into others from the saucer, not the cup. Sometimes it’s a breath, it’s a candle, it’s a call with a someone who makes you smile. It’s a hug, a plant, a pet. It’s turning off notifications, it’s walking outside with a colleague or your team for a meeting.

It’s setting boundaries and saying no when your gut tells you to say no even as your mind is trying to put it all together (I see you!). It’s taking a nap, watching “Big City Greens” or listening to Beyonce as you commute because Beyonce is always the right answer. It’s reconnecting to play and remembering the things that give you joy.

I have a coloring book, crayons, colored pencils, and a set of old school metal jacks with the pink rubber ball that my cousin the trucker found at some truck stop out west somewhere. If your only reference to jacks are the multi-colored plastic ones, you were cheated as a child and you have my sympathy. It’s the songs we learned in kindergarten, at camp, on the block, or house of worship. Sing them wrong and strong if you must, but sing them.

Since August, I have been reading heartbreaking posts on Teacher Twitter about feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, burnout, and depletion – and it’s just September. Schools here in New York City just reopened; the largest and last  system in the country to so do. And two teachers I know personally quit on the first day.

We are in crisis, period. And yet, we are also in a place of great opportunity. We can transform. We can be practical and radical in our need for healing, for connection, for the unlimited possibilities of what we could and should become. I see you and want to be seen by you as someone who is here to support you from a place of abundance.

This is the first time I’ve written since May of 2020 and doing so now is giving me much joy. Thank you.