Put Your Oxygen Mask On First
My sister-by-choice, Sue and I just returned from New England where the magical display of brilliant colors amazed us. This annual spectacle serves as the official kick off to fall. Exhausted from our leaf-peeping, we plunked into our seats and settled in for the five hour flight to Los Angeles. In the old days (maybe last year), a flight attendant stood at the front of the cabin pointing to features on the aircraft as passengers readied themselves for take off. Today, Sue and I were directed to a mini-screen anchored in the seatback in front of you.
This MTV-like video contained the same basic information reminding passengers to fasten their seatbelts, turn off any electronics and where to locate the nearest emergency exit. As part of the routine speech about FAA rules, the choreographed dancers used coils of plastic tubing from an orange-coned mask in one hand as though they had dropped down from a compartment above. In possibly their best fly girls impersonation, the performers demonstrated what to do in case the cabin lost pressure. “Grab the one hanging in front of you and put it on,” they sang. “Breathe normally. If you’re traveling with a child, put your oxygen mask on first.”
This directive isn’t new. Some three decades ago (did I say that out loud) I took my first solo flight as a mom with my 8-month-old son, Shawn perched on my lap for the 80-minute journey from San Diego to Sacramento to see my sister, Sadye.
New to all this mothering stuff, my mind quickly weighed the plusses and minuses of putting Shawn’s mask on him before I secured my own. If an emergency really did happen, what would I do? How can I put my mask on first? What if I don’t get to my son in time? My maternal instinct, whirling with protective strategies, kicked in big time. Before my mental scenario took hold though, the flight attendant explained: “If you don’t get oxygen, you can pass out or get disoriented and you won’t be able to help your child.”
In spite of my instinctive reaction to care for Shawn first, that wasn’t the safest choice. I needed to secure my own breathing first. This was a startling concept for this rookie mom to embrace – the importance of taking care of me before my child.
I’d been absorbed by motherhood months before Shawn was born. For me, it started when I first saw his heartbeat during a sonogram and felt his tiny feet kick inside my tummy. I prepared myself to love and nurture this little person long before my husband, Nick, and I picked out a name, a preschool or a college fund. His welfare would always come before mine. For a flight attendant — or anyone else — to ask me to protect myself before taking care of my son is attempting miracles.
Pretty much the only time we’re okay with putting ourselves first is on the second Sunday in May. You know it better as Mother’s Day. The 24 hours (well, maybe more like two hours) when mom’s the top banana — pampered, fussed over and honored as if she’d made it to the finals of “American Idol.”
From California to Connecticut, sleep-deprived women are lovingly served burnt toast and lukewarm tea for breakfast. Homemade cards, bouquets of handpicked daisies and warm hugs are the treasured gifts of the day. Dad has arranged for a bucket of chicken for dinner and the afternoon is spent doing what mom likes to do – (if only she could remember what that is).
It’s hard for most moms to make the switch from caregiver to care-receiver. For 364 days a year, we’re meal-planning, check-book balancing, nutrition-seeking beings, with just one mission – keeping our family safe, healthy and happy. Our days are divided into many roles — wife, mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, aunt and friend — and we do our best not to disappoint anyone. But on this springtime Sunday, we’re told to put away our day planners, toilet brushes and coupon caddies. We’re coaxed into relaxing while our kids take care of us.
Many Mother’s Days have passed since that first flight I took with Shawn. We arrived safely in Sacramento without any oxygen masks popping out from overhead. But that day, I left the plane with a new appreciation for why – sometimes — it’s okay for mom to be first. A relaxed, replenished mother is better equipped to take care of those she cherishes.
Finding a few minutes to take a breath can seem like an insurmountable task when you’re raising children. But if you plan it right, you can sneak “me-time moments” into your day. My favorite breathers are a 75-minute yoga practice, meeting a friend for a mocha or reading a few pages of a captivating mystery.
On a really good day, I’m soaking in a hot bubble bath, blissfully uninterrupted by the demands of life. Don’t get me wrong. Very few days play out like a 1960s TV sitcom. Most of the time I’m torn between hectic schedules and conflicting demands. But if making time for me benefits my family, then I’m willing to take one for the team.
Today and every day, if only for a few minutes, Put Your Oxygen Mask On First. Those deep breaths energize us to face burnt toast, muddy tracks across the kitchen floor, college tuition and that endless pile of mismatched socks.