I’m excited to celebrate the release of my novella, Maybe This Time. Here’s a short excerpt I thought you might enjoy.
Kate held the door as Colleen, eyes still glued to her tablet, walked out of the coffee shop. “I’ll follow up on the wine and chocolate class,” Kate promised.
“Nothing gets your mind off a hot guy like wine and chocolate,” Colleen said. “Are you coming to yoga practice?”
“Naw, think I’ll head into the office early and catch up on a few things.”
“And wait for Eric to call.”
“If he calls, he calls. I just met the guy. This isn’t life changing.” Kate argued more to herself than to Colleen, dismissing the idea aloud that she was already in deep. The pounding of her heart did little to reinforce the casual tone she hoped to emit. After all, she and Eric barely spent an hour together and most of that was discussing floor plans and parking flow. “There he is.” Kate shouted at Colleen, shoving a crinkly bag of leftover scones into her friend’s hand before racing up the street toward a parked taxi cab.
Colleen fumbled to catch the bag without dropping her tablet. “He who?” she yelled, chasing behind, but not at the same sprint Kate exhibited. Suddenly Kate stopped hard, as though she hit a wall and turned around. Oh my God. Her breath hitched as she tried to regain her composure before Colleen caught up to her.
“What are you chasing after?”
“A dream,” Kate responded, sucking in air. “It wasn’t Eric. I made a mistake. Let’s go.” She grabbed Colleen by the arm and tugged her toward the cafe, hoping she wouldn’t ask any more questions. Kate didn’t want to tell her friend that she saw Eric standing near a cab. Her Eric, being kissed by a shapely woman with a tiny waist and long legs. A beautiful blonde who whispered something sexy into his ear before walking away. They must have been on a romantic getaway. How stupid I am to think a guy like Eric is waiting around for me. He probably dates lots of women—at the same time.
“Hey, Kate. Is that you?”
Kate walked faster, but Colleen stopped. “There’s a guy back there waving at you. Kinda nice looking. Now he’s coming our way.” Colleen smiled as though inviting him to come closer.
“Don’t encourage him,” Kate said.
“Too late. Here he is.” Colleen made a sweeping motion as though she were a hostess on a game show introducing today’s prizes.
Oh God, his eyes are browner than I remember.
“Kate, I’m glad I caught you,” Eric said. “Sorry I missed you on the phone. I got back into town early.”
“I see that,” Kate muttered, her icy tone coating each word. Not going through this drama again. Crazy guy. Multiple girlfriends. Bad endings.
“I’m Eric Wiley,” he said, offering his hand for Colleen to shake before returning his attention to Kate.
“So maybe we can set up that coffee date. There’s a great little place a couple of doors down.”
“I know. Colleen and I just had coffee there.”
“And scones,” Colleen chimed in, handing Kate her bag of leftovers. “I’ve got to get going. I have class in thirty minutes.”
“Teacher or student?” Eric asked.
“Nice. Maybe I can take your class sometime. It’s not that sweaty yoga, is it?”
“No, it’s more of a flow class. Kate can tell you all about it.” Colleen tapped Kate on the shoulder. “I’ll see you later,” she said before scurrying toward the yoga studio.
“I like your friend,” Eric said gesturing to Colleen’s back.
“She’s pretty terrific. We met in her class. Used to be a cop.” Kate wanted to run away, but her feet grounded into the earth as though an alien force rooted them in place. All the small talk didn’t comfort her. Minutes before this guy was kissing another woman, and now he was flirting with her. Was there no end to his nerve?
“Now that’s really switching career paths,” Eric said. “I consider doing that sometimes.”
“And leave the family business for what? I don’t see that happening.” You’re such a privileged mama’s boy, Kate wanted to say, but didn’t. Truth was during their earlier interactions, Eric didn’t strike her as someone who life had been easy on. It was obvious his parents leaned on his judgment. Eric presented himself as a self-made man, working for what success came his way. Still, he was hiding something she couldn’t quite put her finger on.
Granted with business-owner parents, his path may have been smoother than many. Even if your folks set you up, you’re the one who has to walk that path. Kate knew lots of privileged folks who took the benefits they were born into and managed to drink, gamble or in some other way squander their advantage, as though opportunity was an all-you-can-eat buffet. Made a bad choice, no problem. Just get a clean plate and try again. The sports pages and movie magazines were filled with celebrity examples. A couple of Kate’s sorority sisters were still trying to find themselves. That’s what they claimed at the last reunion.
“You’d be surprised. I can tell you more about my future plans over a hot mocha.”
Kate readjusted her purse strap and leaned away. “Thanks for the invite, but I need to get to work. We’re already brainstorming the next complex. Proposal is due in two weeks.”
“Yeah, I know. We talked about your innovative ideas. I thought they were great. You’re great.” Eric licked his lips and stepped closer. “Seems to me like we connected, at least a little bit, but if you’re not interested, just say so. You don’t have to go through not answering my calls and giving me the brush off. Just be honest. It will save us both a lot of time.”
Kate shoved her paper pastry bag in her coat pocket and crossed her arms. “Honesty? Is that the most important value to you, because I believe in always telling the truth. I always tell the truth.”
“And you’re suggesting I don’t?” Eric’s nostrils flared with anger, causing Kate to step back. “We are standing in the street arguing about I don’t know what. Do you want to have a cup of coffee with me or not? It’s just that simple.”
“Not until you answer a question first.” Kate straightened to her full five-foot-six height. “Who were you kissing a moment ago?”
“Kissing? What are you talking about?”
“Near the cab. The woman who kissed you. Who is she? You’re an only child, so I know that wasn’t your sister. A cousin, maybe?” Kate huffed.
Eric’s eyes widened.
Is this how he stalls for time, cooking up a lie, Kate thought. This should be really good. She waited, even tapped the toe of her boot a time or two. “Well?”
“Like I said on my call, business ended early. I grabbed a cab with a coworker. End of story.”
“Not quite. Here comes your coworker, and she looks ticked.”
I used to be a couch potato, hoping that fitness was just a fad. Convinced that I looked good in double-digit jeans, I became expert at finding clothes labeled relaxed fit, tummy control and instantly slimming. By the end of each day, my energy was so low that I nodded off during Jeopardy!
Things started turning around, though, after my doctor made it clear that maintaining my current out-of-shape shape wasn’t a viable health strategy. During my annual check-up, I listened as he lectured about the importance of a regular fitness plan. And, he said, it had to include weight-bearing exercises to strengthen my bones. My gelatinous thighs and giggly-under arms moved in agreement. I got the message: this PE delinquent needed to get serious about exercise.
A researcher by profession, I’d toyed with the concept of exercising before. I talked to friends, gathered flyers, read brochures and considered class schedules. Pinned on my bulletin board was a two-year-old e-mail reply from the local Y to my inquiry about yoga classes.
When I got home after my check-up, I pulled out my research and sifted through the many choices, times and locations. My eyes were drawn to: Step & Sculpt: This fun and high-energy class combines easy to follow step aerobics with strength conditioning. Perfect to slim and tone all over. P. Payne, instructor.
I thought about last time I’d worked out on a step, nearly two decades ago. My youngest son Seth, attended Tiny Tots program, laptops were where you put your napkin and no one I knew got their coffee from a barista. Only our parakeet tweeted. And I had more energy, my clothes fit better and I felt good about myself.
So, it seemed that this twice-a-week step aerobics class at City Recreation Center offered everything I needed, and it was only 55 minutes long. Could be my on-ramp to the fitness freeway? Out of excuses, I sucked in my stomach, grabbed my sneakers and water bottle, crossed my fingers and signed up.
On the first day of class, I left my half-finished mocha and the morning newspaper unread to arrive on time. Still not sure that I’d made the right decision, I secured a spot in the back of the room, near the door for a quick escape. After a few warm-up stretches, I blended in — just another gal in a group of 20- to 60-somethings, trying to remember her right foot from her left. The music boomed hits from the ’70s, ’80s, ‘90s and beyond. Patricia, our instructor yelled out cues: March Right, Alternate Hamstring Curl, “L Step”. It took a few minutes, but the choreography came back to me. I was stepping, kicking and lifting in lockstep with everyone else; firing up muscles that hadn’t been used this century. My heart rate quickened with every Grapevine to the Right and Three-knee Repeater, she commanded.
Weeks went by. We gals — sweating our way through whatever exercise-set-to-music routine this physical-fitness powder keg threw at us — bonded in our common goal. Patricia showed no mercy to our muscles. Triceps, biceps, abs, quads, it didn’t matter. She angered them all. And then, after 40 minutes of aerobics, the real workout began. She brought out exercise balls, resistance bands and hand weights – medieval torture devices designed to push us to the next level. Lunges, curls, crunches, push ups — she mastered them all and for some crazy reason, she thought we could, too.
Patricia motivated, challenged and cajoled each of us to work harder. So it wasn’t surprising that, after several weeks, I saw progress – definition returned to my upper arms, my thighs didn’t keep moving after the rest of me had stopped and I’d overcome my need for an afternoon nap. Excited to share my good news, I stayed after class to tell her. I wanted Patricia to know that it was her sincere words of encouragement that kept me off the couch and on the gym floor.
“I’m getting a lot from your class,” I said, my quads still burning after a particularly strenuous set of squats. “After the first couple of classes, I didn’t know if I’d make it or not. But I’m glad I hung in there. I feel stronger and things aren’t as jiggly as they were.”
She smiled. “I knew you could do it. Just keep it up and you’ll be back in shape by summer.”
I nodded, not wanting to entertain the thought of swimsuits just yet. “But I have to confess that I almost didn’t sign-up for your class. I was worried about taking an aerobics class instructed by someone named Payne,” I said, chuckling at my own joke.
She stuffed her towel in her workout bag and turned back to me. “Good thing you didn’t know that my maiden name is Moore.”
I have a name and I like it – Claire. From the French for bright and clear. My mother chose it, I’m sure after searching through baby naming books. She fought off pressure to use traditional family names to pick this unique one. For all of her hard work, I’ll bet she’s not happy with the variations it’s undergone.
Unlike Elizabeth (Liz, Libby, Beth, etc.) there aren’t a lot of diminutives for Claire. The most memorable attempt was Claircy. (My Godsister Fran is the only one permitted to call me this to my face.) Fortunately it never stuck. I think that’s why my mother chose Claire. There is no nickname. However, mom didn’t think it all the way through. She should have suspected–being a mother of four herself–how my name and my identity would change. She knew what would eventually happen, yet she never shared the secret with me.
I’m talking about the inevitable nicknaming every woman endures after becoming a mother. You are now referred to as “the room mom,” “the pitcher’s mom,” “the goalie’s mom,” “the mother of the boy Kayleen has a crush on.” Not quite the moniker bestowed at baptism, and a tough one to fit on a driver’s license. During all of these conversations, there are few attempts to learn the woman’s given name.
My friends, on the other hand, have no problem saying my name, no variations included. They call me Claire. Never am I referred to as “that boy’s mother.” With my girlfriends, my identity is never in question.
Being mom takes precedence over everything else in my life. It’s the most important work I do and I do it with love. But I wasn’t born a mother. I did have a life (I think) before I had children. I am a person, who’s also a mom. That’s who I was before I became Shawn, Jake and Seth’s mom and now, my new favorite – Windley’s grandmother.
With my gal pals, I’m Claire. A person first, a mom and grandmom second. That’s why I need to connect with these ladies regularly – my longtime friends, the Zoo Gals, women providing support and free therapy at the drop of a hat. Our careers changed, however our friendships remained constant. Even though I now live miles away from Laura, Jackie and Elaine, they are as close as an e-mail.
When we were young mothers of toddlers who quickly transformed into teens, we would gather for three or four hours, every few months, and allow our mom role to take a back seat. And it felt good. On those occasions I was among people who didn’t think my finest talents lie in making a grilled cheese sandwich. To them I’m wasn’t the originator of the phrase: Pick up your mess! They don’t think the words old and Claire naturally go together. Not one of them ever used the designation annoying when referring to me. At least not when I could hear it.
Among the four of us, we mother eight kids. I’m the only grammy so far, but then again, I was the only mommy when our little foursome formed. Still, we never refer to each other as Colin, Jason, Jake or Bryce’s mom.
These ladies remember when TV shows were only in black and white. There were maybe three channels, not 300. Like me, they grew up making popcorn in a pot on the stove, not in a bag in the microwave. Our term papers didn’t include Internet references. Caller ID, cell phones, text messages – all things our parents didn’t deal with.
These are my friends. Women in the same place, at the same time, who raised our sons the best we could. We know each other as individuals. That’s why I miss our occasional mochas, unlimited popcorn at the movies and Cheesecake Factory outings.
Gone are the days when we’d pick a night, meet in the middle of San Diego county and catch up on where our lives have taken us since our last moms’ meeting. Each of us knows the importance of enduring friendships; peers with a history and a commonality of purpose. Now we’re spread across the country from California to New York City, and those monthly opportunities to get together have changed into yearly possibilities.
Our children are now adults, a constant reminder of how quickly things change; everything except why being mom is a priority. On those golden occasions, when we are able to reconnect the women behind the mothers, we discover more about ourselves.
That’s an important lesson I learned from George, Sadye, Paul and Claire’s mom. Her name is Florence.
My Deluxe Diet Scale sits on my home office desk. I bought it a dozen or so years ago. It’s one of many tools I’ve collected all promising to help me reach my perfect weight. This ideal number isn’t the same weight I enjoyed in my single days or even the weight I carried on my wedding. No, I’m not that foolish. I know the difference between real and fantasy. My days of weighing less than my bowling score have long passed. I aim toward a sensible weight for my diminutive stature.
On the inside I think God made me short for my weight, but that doesn’t help my cause. So, like many women, I struggle with the number that lights up on my digital scale each morning. Yes, it’s that same 5 pounds I’ve tried to lose through four presidential administrations, only now it has doubled. It seems to be gaining momentum, fighting every step of the way to remain a part of me.
When I was 12, I didn’t think about how much I weighed or how my clothes fit. I never climbed on a scale, unless it was at the doctor’s office. The details that filled my mind as a curly-haired preteen were: Does Steve Newton, the handsomest guy in eighth grade, know I exist? How will I finish my report on Chile? What time does the Partridge Family Show start on TV and does David Cassidy have a girl friend? Never a care about the calorie count in a Strawberry Nirvanna Jamba Juice. Who thought about how much fat there is in movie theatre popcorn? Not me.
The lesson my mother, Florence, wanted me to learn was that the girl I was mattered more than the girl I looked like. Her buzzwords were: try, try again and always be truthful. There weren’t conversations about being over weight or how I looked. Short of combing my hair and making certain that my teeth were brushed, she never harped on these topics. Sure, I recall mom moving a yellow vinyl-covered, chrome-legged kitchen chair in front of our black-and-white TV where she would do her leg lifts guided by Jack LaLanne. To me, her efforts were more in the spirit of exercise than weight loss. Fitness, not foxy, was the motto,.
But times changed and even though it’s not what I learned at home, I have acquired a preoccupation with calories. Was there a time I didn’t know my body mass index? I’m not sure. I think this transformation from happy-go-lucky schoolgirl to appearance-minded career woman happened slowly. It hit somewhere between young bride and seasoned mother.
I marvel at this plastic scale. It’s divided evenly in ounces (and grams) and I realize that I haven’t used it for it’s original purpose in a long time. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that in recent years, this measuring tool has been employed more often for weighing letters not linguini. As the price of postage expanded, so did my hips.
My doctor offers lots of convincing reasons why it’s important to reach my goal weight. Things like a healthy heart and lower blood pressure top the list. But I think it’s more than playing with my granddaughter, Windley, that inspires me skip the extra serving of guacamole and stay away from the Krispy Kremes. My real motivator, in spite of mom’s insight, is the quest to look young. In this age of face lifts and tummy tucks, who wants to be labeled fat and frumpy? Elastic-waist polyester pants and free-form blouses that aren’t designed to be tucked in, no way. This is the generation of “good-looking, tight-fitting” jeans. I have a waistline and I want to use it.
My mind flips back to when I was that young Girl Scout, outfitted in my mint green uniform and dark green sash, dotted with badges. Alongside girls from my troop, I stood in front of the Market Basket grocery store, selling cookies. I didn’t know about trans fats. Nutrition facts weren’t printed on the side panels of the sandwich cookies we pedaled for 50 cents a box. Being together, having friends and sharing a common goal was our priority — that and hoping that Steve Newton would notice one of us.
I’ll still use my scale to weigh occasional letters and birthday packages before I send them to out-of-town family and friends. When I pull it out, though, now I’m aware of its intended purpose – an aid in reaching my ideal weight. But a scale can never measure the person I am. Only I can assess that. I know that ideal exists only in my own expectations. This doesn’t mean I’m giving up on watching my weight. I’m no quitter. Of course, I’ll try, try again, no matter which way the scale tips. I think mom would like that.
No one confuses me with Martha Stewart. I wish someone would. But when any of my friends wants to create holiday centerpieces using bark, berries and spray-painted soda can holders, I’m not the first phone call they make. I know who they do call–women who turn a sprig of rosemary, three candles and a leftover Cool Whip bowl into a sight to behold. Through my green-tinged brown eyes, I admire those ladies. I barely grit my teeth when I receive their handmade holiday card and note how everyone in the family photo– even the dog–looks fabulous.
I don’t know where I was when elegance, artistry and style were being handed out. I must have been standing in the make-magic-out-of-mushroom-soup line. It’s not that I don’t admire creativity in others. Just the opposite. I’m the first one to offer a flattering comment. I’ll ask the neighborhood artisan what inspired her to place 50 floating candles in the backyard birdbath at the Fourth of July barbecue. I’m not the least bit jealous. I’m realistic. I know that if I re-created the same thing, I’d end up with 49 wet candles and a bird on fire.
Still I try. I want my family to have cozy, pleasant memories of their childhood Christmases. When they were young, I envisioned my three sons, Shawn, Jake and Seth, contently huddled around our hearth, stringing popcorn and hanging ornaments. Our joyful voices would be singing all the verses to the 12 Days of Christmas or taking turns reading the Polar Express.
Of course, this never happened. A more likely scenario: they boys were in the driveway, playing basketball and discussing the Chargers’ playoff possibilities and how their fantasy teams were doing while I hung stockings over the fireplace.
Nevertheless, as a mom, and now a grandmother, I’m always looking for crafty, memory-making activities that bring a loving family together. That’s why an ever-growing pile of easy-to-make holiday craft instructions inhabits a corner of my TV room. There are piles of pages I’ve collected from numerous issues of Family Circle, Better Homes & Gardens and Good Housekeeping. The only thing larger than this stack is my intention to actually make one of these projects, one of these years with Windley, my granddaughter.
My talents don’t excel in the cooking and baking department, either. Whenever I got stuck roasting the big bird, my first step was callingl my sister, Sadye (the former Home Ec teacher), pleading for a quick lesson in stuffing preparation and a refresher on how to truss a turkey. Now that call goes to Sweet Sue, who has been instrumental in my recent mashed potato success. Windley will soon learn that her Sitie’s gingerbread houses, complete with gumdrops and licorice, come from a kit.
The fact that I’m artistically impaired hasn’t diminished my passion for the holidays. My well-worn DVDs of It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street were cued up and ready to go by December 1. I’ll watch Frosty the Snowman holding a fresh box of Kleenex, because I always cry when Frosty melts.
Luckily, Christmas is not a season reserved exclusively for the creative. It’s also for the spiritual, the trusting and the sensitive. It’s for the tranquil, the disorganized and the easy-going. So, I’ve made peace with the fact that my home –complete with the artificial scents of pine and peppermint wafting through my kitchen — will never be a model for a Norman Rockwell-esque illustration. My somewhat tilted tree, decorated mostly with kindergarten art projects and my mother’s ornaments, won’t be featured in the Christmas issue of House Beautiful. And it’s OK.
I’m committing myself to a simpler, kinder Christmas; changing my attitude to embrace a gentler spirit of the season. One that doesn’t have me tracking super sales that started before the sun came up. Yes, my cranberries come from a can instead of from the farmers’ market and I haven’t mailed all my packages by December 17. Christmas isn’t intended to be a test of stress, but instead an awareness of our blessings. That’s why I smile as I search for a mall parking spot. I overcome the urge to elbow the lady reaching over me for a free sample in Costco.
Christmas is about enjoying the moments, whether they come with linen napkins and fine China or paper towels and Styrofoam plates. The holidays are for being with family and friends. A time to honor your faith and reaffirm your beliefs. Thank goodness for this pause in the hustle and bustle of life, this gentle reminder to recall past Christmases, savor the present and ponder what the future might bring.
As mothers, we hope our children will reminisce about what Christmas was like at home when they were small. That their holiday memories are filled with a magic and delight that brought satisfied smiles to their faces. My three sons are grown now and have begun their own Christmas customs and I’m filled with a new joy watching as their traditions unfold.
I eagerly anticipate the day when Shawn tells his now his ten-month-old daughter what Christmas morning was like when he was little. I hope that conversation includes a glimmer in his eye as he recalls leaving carrots for Santa’s reindeer or the excitement of choosing one gift to open on Christmas Eve.
All of these small details make up the wonder and peace of Christmas. My mother’s laugh and the blending aromas of sugar cookies, pine needles and baked ham, that’s where Christmas lives in my memory. It’s a sure bet Shawn and my beautiful daughter-in-law, Lisa, won’t be recapping for Windley the first time they tasted my candied yams . It is possible, though, that I’ll get a shout out for my Chex Mix.
About fifteen years ago I began keeping a gratitude journal. My notebook is nothing fancy; just aa simple, spiral-bound book filled with blank pages. On those lines, I jot down at least three things each morning that delighted me the day before. Spending a few minutes thinking about what I’m grateful for is a great way to begin each day.
The daily demands of being a wife, mother, grandmother, friend and consumer (just to name a few) provide lots of opportunities for disappointment, challenge and frustration. By taking a moment to reflect on what’s went right the day before, I give myself another opportunity — one that adjusts my view to see the glass as half-full instead of half- empty.
Through sleep-rimmed eyes, before my feet hit the floor, I reach for my journal, stationed on my nightstand and start writing. Some entries are simple one-word notes like “sunshine,” “reading,” or “bargains.” Others are short prayers of thanks for my family’s good health, the addition of a grandchild, niece or nephew. I’m reluctant to admit that there seems to be a disproportionate number of entries involving food – lunches with friends, family dinners, new recipes that worked, a nut roll baked just for me by my niece, Maria.
Longer passages are a bit more reflective, perhaps chronicling a tough time, lamenting a difficult decision or struggling with the pain of losing someone close to my heart. The journal is also a place for me to boast about the successes of my children, record my feelings about a recently published article or pat myself on the back for achieving small goal – cleaning out a closet.
These pages are my paper sanctuary – a place to preserve the positive. They are a way to slow down my mind and reflect on the good news in my life. It’s what I call Thinking Thankful. Focusing on the good stuff that happened the day before lessens my usual spinning about things that normally make headlines in my mind — the computer crashing, the mess in the family room, a window screen chewed by Bandit, our dog or a rejection slip from an ill-informed editor.
Even though I start with three, there is no limit to the number of entries that find their way into my gratitude journal. Some days I take the time to write more, but knowing that I only have to come up with three makes it easy to fit this appreciation review into my morning routine.
Some items that show up with regularity are ways to simplify life. Great ideas from friends like the ideal construction of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My recipe was two slices of bread, one slice slathered in peanut butter, the other in jelly. It wasn’t until lunching with my friend, Rik, that I learned the faultiness of my formula. As he ate his lunch, I noticed that his sandwich didn’t have that “grape-jelly seepage” mine are famous for. Rik covers both slices of bread with a thin layer of peanut butter and then jellies in between. Perfect PB&J every time.
My journal let documents the goodness that I might otherwise take for granted. It’s is a record of how quickly life changes. That’s why ever so often, I read what I’ve written weeks, months even years before.
In 2004, I noted how hatha yoga brought flexibility to my hips. A few entries recorded my time spent helping my son, Jake, fill out college applications and the joy of Sunday morning visits with my mom. Today I still keep up my gentle yoga practice. Jake, an ASU graduate, is engaged to the beautiful Rachel. But those magic times when seeing my mother’s angelic smile was a mere five-mute drive ended that September. The page turned.
Because of my early morning writing practice, I’m actively paying attention to the good stuff that life sneaks in when I’m not looking. I stop to think about what went right during the last 24 hours. Little things like my husband, Nick, starting a load of laundry; my sister Sue, having my hard-to-find coffee creamer in her fridge on a recent visit; a friend dotting my desk with ladybugs stones the size of dimes, just because she knows I like ladybugs.
None of these things are life changing. They’re not life-altering events like winning the lotto, paying off your mortgage or finding the perfect job. Fortunately, though, they are life enhancing. Taken together they comprise the best parts of living. These are moments I might miss. I might take them for granted if I wasn’t writing them down.
Today’s technology lets us accomplish more in less time. That should be a good thing, but instead, we’re moving at the speed of life, going faster and doing more. Sandwiched between laundry, homework and grocery shopping, there’s little space left to ponder and contemplate. Time for these important reflections doesn’t just happen. It has to be scheduled. By taking a couple of minutes each day to write about what you’re thankful for you’ll enjoy the journey more. It doesn’t matter what your destination.
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.
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