“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to flight XXX with nonstop service to XXXX.”
As if flying weren’t panic-inducing enough these days, the laundry list the stewardess off-handedly ticks off is absolutely horrifying if you really listen. “Welcome aboard, here is a list of ways you could die.”
“Emergency exits are located here and here. Each exit is equipped with a safety slide.”
If there’s a fire, you’d better hope to God you’re close to an emergency exit. Have you SEEN how long it takes for everyone to exit the plane at the end of a routine flight?? Let’s hope you even get to the slide before you burn to a crisp inside this metal oven we call an airplane.
“In the event of a water landing, life jackets are located under your seats.”
But when’s the last time you heard of anyone using those things, really? Hope you at least filled up on our complimentary peanuts before sinking to your watery grave.
“In case there’s a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will deploy from the ceiling above you. To secure, pull the mask toward you, secure the elastic strap to your head … Breathe normally. Even if the bag does not inflate, keep in mind that oxygen is flowing. Always secure your own mask before assisting others.”
And there it is. A laundry list of ways you could meet your maker non-stop from Denver to San Francisco, but it gets at some hard truths too: You have to help yourself before you help others.
“So, are your kids still at home with you all day?” my pediatrician asked as she shined a light into the eyes of my shrieking 15-month-old.
“Well,” I said in hushed tones, as though my words would absorb through the walls, “I don’t get all my fulfillment from my kids.”
She nodded understandingly. But people aren’t supposed to admit that, right?
My children are not my whole life. Motherhood is not the ultimate fulfillment. Sure, it fills me up, but I need other things to help make me whole.
But that sounds selfish. Because it’s supposed to be enough. Two gorgeous, healthy children whom I have the privilege of nurturing, and nourishing, and rearing. What more could I possibly want?
Again and again, I find myself straddling this awkward fence of motherdom and … other-dom. I’m no great feminist, but quitting my office job was a no-brainer when I popped out two kids. I wanted the few short, precious years I’d have with them before they were forever schlepping to and from school.
But just because I stay home, that didn’t mean I had to lose myself in the process. I am a mother, yes. Sometimes a good one. Sometimes a surviving one.
But first and most important—and perhaps most selfishly—I need other things too.
So I find things that fill me up and allow me the opportunity to flex the non-mom brain muscles.
I write and edit stories, sometimes slogging through tedious blocks of copy wondering why I accepted a job (money); other times writing story leads and rewriting story structures that I enjoy. I take leisure classes to learn things like calligraphy and photography. I have periodic dinner dates and drinks out with friends. I read at least one book a week. I read critical essays and political columns. I watch trash TV.
And I date my husband. Often, those dates consist of a microwaved dinner after the kids have gone to bed, maybe a glass of wine and a TV show on Netflix, but I never said those dates were perfect. Having children has changed us in ways we never imagined, but we work—sometimes hard, sometimes not as hard as we should—to keep our relationship strong.
And in the mornings, I often get up before the kids have begun stirring and put on a pot of coffee before I get them up. Sometimes I have a bowl of oatmeal before I fix their breakfast.
I spend nearly all their waking hours with them—lots of quantity, frankly, not all quality. With so much quantity, I’ve come to accept that it can’t be all quality all the time.
I need my me time: my outside interests that span beyond the confines of diapers and timeouts and story hours and playtimes.
I need friends and adult interaction and things that challenge my brain outside of the motherhood vortex. Because in the end, it’s all those outside things that allow me to be a better mother to the children who (most days) I’m profoundly privileged to call mine.
It is all those things that fill me up and allow me to feel fulfilled—including, but not limited to motherhood. So when my proverbial cabin loses pressure, I will secure my own yellow mask first, so I can then help my children. Because if I’m not breathing comfortably, they won’t be either….