I remember when my first was born and someone told me about the airplane model of parenting – attach your own oxygen mask first before assisting others. Seemed like a no brainer in that last month of pregnancy, but it wasn’t until I realized I was dashing out of the shower with barely rinsed out shampoo, trailing water and suds down the hall to his room in response to his smallest whimper on more than one occasion that I realized it was easier said than done.
By the second time around, I had two little people’s needs to balance as well as my own, and after landing in the emergency room when the little guy was only twelve days old, I had no choice but to take care of myself. And it was heartbreaking. Honestly. I felt like I was letting someone down. That the new baby wasn’t getting the best of me. The most of me. But I also learned that I’d be letting everyone else down if I didn’t take care of myself.
As they’ve gotten older, it’s gotten easier. If I know I need a quiet moment or a change of scenery or a drink of water or a nap, I know how to take care of the physical things in order to keep myself the most sane, healthy, taken care of. But it can still be a challenge. When I’m sick and I watch the house fall to ruins around my inability to follow behind setting the world right. Or when they play together nicely while I’m writing but that play includes fire engine noises and loud truck crashes and an inevitable war of words that distract me from the work in progress. Or when I feel like I need to choose between family time and something i want to do. By myself.
This past weekend, it was with great trepidation that I asked to leave our weekend at home in NC for two hours to go to an author’s book launch party 20 minutes away in Hillsborough with an old college friend. We don’t see our families as often as we’d like and fitting in all the necessary family combinations of visits is already a challenge. But we’d added an extra day to the trip and the timing was perfect in the late afternoon, I’d still be home for dinner.
So, after much agonizing, I went. And it was wonderful. The author was witty and funny and honest and real. My friend knew her and introduced us and she offered wonderful advice and a lead on a writer community for me. I caught up with my friend as much as you can in line to get tea and tarts and a book signed. I still made it home for dinner with my parents and sister and niece.
It can be hard to justify taking care of the creative part of myself when the humdrum daily life is pulsing and demanding attention around me. I know that it’s imperative that when these events come up I honor them and give myself the time to indulge, to learn, to absorb. I left the reading with some new thoughts on my own work in progress, things that weren’t strong enough yet, characters that aren’t clearly articulated. But choosing me, choosing the creative part of me specifically, is a constant struggle. Through the years of career and family, I’ve gotten really good at squashing it and putting it on a shelf for later. Since I’ve opened the gates and really committed, however, it’s become harder to ignore. It needles me in the ribs, it whispers in my ear, it swirls my dreams at night and taunts me in the rare moments of silence.
Taking time for yourself, for your true self, the self you aspire to be, not the errands self or the job self or the parent self or the friend self or the daughter self. We all have something we want to be, whether it’s a rock climber or a reader or an entrepreneur or a good cook or a woodworker or a DIY designer or a painter. It can be a big thing that defines your trajectory or simply a hobby that gives you joy a few minutes each day. Whatever that true thing is, it is the thing we can’t afford to ignore.
Writing is my true thing. My oxygen mask. I took two hours out of our family visit to indulge it. Two hours that resulted in a lead, inspiration and a new contact. Today I took 30 minutes to write this blog post. Tomorrow? We’ll see. But I’ll try my best not to ignore it.
What is your oxygen mask? How do you make sure it’s attached?