I started flying on airplanes when I was 5 years old. My mom would send me on solo trips from Colorado to California to visit my grandparents. I can’t ever imagine doing this with one of my children today, but I keep hearing things were different back then. I remember sitting in the seat paying very close attention to the flight attendant’s instructions. Every single time, they always talked about the oxygen masks dropping down and how important it was to put one on yourself before assisting the children. This made me angry. And terrified. I sat there the entire plane ride imagining the plane filling up with smoke or being depleted of oxygen, and watching all the selfish adults take care of themselves first while I would likely suffocate and die before anyone would be able to assist me. It made absolutely no sense to me. Shouldn’t children be the priority?
At this point of reflection in my life, I see now how I have let that seemingly insignificant childhood incident influence how I raise my own children. When my two oldest ones were little, I would secretly judge the other moms who gathered together weekly to drink margaritas and socialize while their kids were off doing God knows what. I mean, really, they should have gotten that all out of their system before they had children… right? I certainly did. Now, my life was all about my kids. But when I closed my eyes at night, I felt that slight twinge of jealousy that I wasn’t included in any of those groups.
After their father and I divorced, life was obviously turned upside down. I went from being a stay-at-home mom, who devoted all of my time to my children, to having to work and be gone from them often. We lost the home they had grown up in. I got remarried. My mom moved in with us. We moved a few times as we tried to settle our new blended family. Everything went from calm and stable to chaotic and frazzled. As my new husband and I butted heads on his role with my children, I became more defensive of them. I was already weighed down with the guilt of everything I had put them through – I couldn’t allow this “new person” to upset them more.
I counteracted all of that by trying to make their lives easier. I rarely asked them to do chores, opting instead to just do it myself. On rare occasions, I would go away for the weekend with my girlfriends, and my husband would want to surprise me with a clean house when I got home. However, they would inevitably protest and an argument would ensue. So instead, I would come home to my household being in complete distress. My husband would be frustrated that he seemed to have no authority in his own home. My kids would be upset that I even had a new husband. And I, of course, told myself it was all my fault for upheaving their lives and putting them through all of this turmoil. I would spend the rest of the weekend consoling everyone and trying to make it better. In the meantime, the house never got cleaned.
We still pretty much operate this way. My oldest ones are teenagers now and accustomed to life functioning like this. That’s not to say they don’t ever do chores and help out when needed. I’m just not consistent with any type of chore schedule, so when I do ask, it’s usually met with complaints and reasons why they can’t do it at that moment. They are both really great kids and have great friends (we are the house that their friends hang out at all the time – and I love that). So, I go out of my way to accommodate them. I pick up and drop off their friends even when I’m exhausted. My house will be filled with loud teenagers in the wee hours of the morning because I don’t think I’ve ever said no to a sleepover. If they have a special event they want to go to, or something they really want to buy, I try to make it happen. Because, as my 5-year old self surmised, children should be more important than adults.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about those oxygen masks that drop from the ceiling of the plane. I pretty much have the speech memorized now about making sure your mask is secure before assisting your children or others. It randomly plays through my head. And I get it now! Suddenly, I’m seeing how detrimental it has been to me and my children to not have taken care of myself first. By not making sure my “oxygen mask” is secure before assisting others, I haven’t been able to think clearly enough to affix theirs properly.
My oldest son will be 18 in December and graduates this year. I’m worried I haven’t equipped well enough for the real world. I’m concerned he will only be able to survive on fast food and ramen noodles! And he will end up just buying new clothes every month as he runs out from not doing laundry. Good thing he plans on going into computer science… he will need that income to pay for a housekeeper as well!
I was chatting with a friend the other day about how overwhelmed I feel. I told her I felt like I needed an oxygen mask. The next night, while texting with another friend, she, coincidentally, told me I needed an oxygen mask! My goal now is to reach up for that oxygen mask, and secure it properly, because I want to be there to assist my children as they go on their journeys. I want to be coherent enough to help them out on their oxygen masks – because the ultimate goal here is to LIVE a life fully self-expressed.