Sanity lesson from a flight attendant

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It all started with a morning temper tantrum. Not completely unusual in our house I’ll admit, but trying nonetheless. I was planning to bike to work so Big D was going to drop Little d off at daycare.
No problem, right?
Ha! We were all in a rush, and Little d is doing everything in his power to avoid getting his clothes on. I swear toddlers grow eight arms when you try to get them dressed without their permission. Then we fight about what shoes he’s going to wear whether or not I’ve inadvertently opened his yogurt cup (this is strictly forbidden).

Here’s what was going on in my brain: “We have to get him to bed earlier, if only I didn’t have soccer last night and Big D wasn’t working late Little d would have been in bed on time and we wouldn’t have slept in, and I didn’t want to bike to work this morning and Big D wasn’t in a rush, then Little d wouldn’t be cranky and this whole thing could have been avoided.”

I blame myself (and maybe Big D a little). I blame myself for wanting, NEEDING, to get out on my own and for some exercise and adult interaction. No wonder moms find it nearly impossible to exercise or socialize without their kids. The moment we leave the house, the chaos we’ve been holding at bay takes over. Toys jump out of the closet and throw themselves on the floor. Laundry and dishes pile up. Dirt un-vacuums itself onto the carpet. I walk into the house, full of exercise induced euphoria and spend the next 30 minutes stomping around picking things up and restoring order; plugging up the holes in the dam that I left unattended for just a few moments to myself. If it’s not the mess, we give ourselves guilt trips over spending our time, money and attention on anything other than our families. And I think, “Why do I bother?”

Why DO we bother?

We bother spending time and money on ourselves because the alternative is a million times worse than a messy house or tired children. The alternative is that I lose my mind and try to strangle the cat (luckily we don’t have a cat). Or worse. It seems that every week I see a story about parents, suffering from mental illness or extreme depression, who harm their families and themselves. I feel sick, and a little terrified whenever I read these stories. Mostly I try not to read them at all. But like watching a disaster unfold before you, sometimes it’s impossible to turn away. The underlying truth in many of these stories is that often people who knew the families involved in the tragedy say that “they seemed so normal”.

As a society we seem to be lagging when it comes to recognizing the signs of mental illness and depression. It’s easy to see when someone is physically sick, but much harder to really “see” when someone is hurting inside. Especially when as mothers and parents, we are constantly trying to “keep it all together”. We are terrified of becoming that “crazy mom” who finally lost it and strangled the cat, so we try to keep up the appearance that we have everything balanced on one plate, not realizing that we are not only injuring ourselves, but our families in the process.

So the next time my mind starts thinking those guilty thoughts as I head out the door for some exercise or time to myself, I’m going to try and remember this sanity secret that I learned from a flight attendant: “Please apply your own oxygen mask before assisting another person”. I’m a better person, mother, and wife, when I’ve put my own oxygen mask on first. If the plane starts going down and I run out of air, I’m no good to anyone without first taking care of myself.

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