If you’ve ever traveled by plane, you’ve undoubtedly rolled your eyes and daydreamed during the pre-takeoff inflight announcements from the flight attendants. Seat belt, check. Oh, smoking ISN’T allowed on planes? Check. Exit row, check. My seat is a flotation device, check.
The one announcement that I can’t help picturing every time I hear it is about the loss of oxygen and air pressure in the cabin. Maybe I’ve seen too many “we’re going down!” plane movies, but I can see all of those yellow masks dropping and packages falling from overhead compartments and suddenly everyone is on an island with the Dharma Initiative and The Others and nobody ever knows what’s going on.
In case you’ve completely spaced out during the inflight announcements, here’s what they say about oxygen masks: “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.” I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling that this would be a hard instruction to remember if I were on a plane in crisis. Once I saw those yellow masks fall, I’d want to move as quickly as I could to get the masks on my kids. But the instruction says no — put yours on first. Why? Because if you’re putting masks on your kids as you breathe in the lack of oxygen, you’ve at best passed out and become a burden to others on the plane, and at worst — I’m not a doctor, but I’ll assume it’s something bad. This reference works better if it’s something bad.
And so, whether you are parent or not, stay at home or not, flying or not, remember this: put your oxygen mask on first. Help others immediately afterward, but first make sure you can breathe. In everyday life on the ground, this looks like taking care of yourself so you are able to take care of others. Parents, we love our kids. We want to put them first. But if we are struggling, if we are hurting, if we are tired, we cannot give them our best. And that’s what they deserve, isn’t it?
So here are my five ways to take care of myself:
I don’t count calories or follow a specific, restrictive diet. I used to log foods and be incredibly meticulous about what I put in my body, but it was awful. I didn’t enjoy eating. I didn’t always make healthy choices — I made the choices that fit into my daily caloric allowance. So now I eat whole, real foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, drink lots of water, limit alcohol to two or three drinks per week, and try not to snack after dinner. If I eat good food, I feel good. I sometimes eat junk. I usually feel awful after that. It’s a physical tolerance thing, I’m almost certain.
There was a time when I would only exercise to try and get to a goal weight. I hated the effort of exercising and was only interested in the results. If they didn’t come quick enough, I’d get discouraged and my efforts would slow. Of course, you can see how this is a destructive method. Recently God has opened my eyes to the benefits of health over physical appearance. Isn’t that lovely? I’m praying that sticks around for a while.
3. QUIET TIME
I don’t know where you are spiritually, and while I would not try to force anything on you, this is a very important part of what makes me sane. If you have other questions about it, I’d be more than happy to talk with you privately. I read a chapter or two of scripture, I read the daily devotion from Shauna Niequist’s Savor, and I pray for my people. I meditate and listen for God. It’s a beautiful and necessary practice that I used to treat as homework. “Better quick get in my God time for today…” That isn’t beneficial. Make the time, use the time. If you miss a day, don’t skim through double the next day. Start where you left off. God is where you are.
(Insert red-faced shame emoji, as I had a proper church upbringing.)
Ladies and gentlemen, make time for your partner. Make real time. Make… bedroom time. Intimacy isn’t just sex, however; make time to connect with your spouse and remember why you love them in a real, non-parenting way. Moms, probably dads too but I can only speak to moms from experience — moms, we are tired. At the end of a long day, sex and connection is occasionally far down on the list of things we want or feel we need. But go too long without either, and, well, I, for one, can get cranky.
5. ME TIME
I’m a loud and proud introvert (by which of course I mean I am quiet and reserved). I need alone time to recharge. Sometimes it means sitting in silence at the end of the day. Sometimes it means hiding in a closet and singing show tunes. Sometimes it means asking Jay to watch the kids for the afternoon, because I just need to be by myself. This has been a learned skill. Although I know I function much better with alone time, I expected Jay to somehow sense exactly when I needed some. He wouldn’t offer, because he didn’t know, and then we would argue about why he wasn’t offering to help more. Ask for help, friends. Let your husbands be dads, and not just in family photos. Don’t be ashamed to ask for a break. You need a break.
Spend some time this week finding out what it takes to make you the best version of yourself. Put your oxygen mask on first, because it’s the only way you’re going to survive.