Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

The other day, I was talking to Nico’s preschool teacher when she told me that she used to be a musician.  And by the sound of it, a pretty accomplished one.  She quit because the long hours and travel were too hard on her body (as if taking care of 3, 4 and 5-year-olds aren’t?). And then she said something that really caught my attention: “It was just like taking care of kids, but the hours were longer and it was at night.  Which meant that we were taking care of drunk people,” she said, “making sure they had their coats and keys, that they made it home safely, that kind of thing.”

And with that offhand comment, everything clicked into place.  I’m one of those moms, after all, who came to the game a little late and a lot confused.  Instead of babysitting when I was younger (I babysat only twice in my life, and one of those times was for a college professor who didn’t ask me back after I gave his daughter Earl Gray tea at bedtime), I tended bar.

But I did a different kind of babysitting when I was bartending.  I might not have taken any Red Cross babysitting classes, but I learned my bartending lessons well: how to out-drink my patrons, how to lock someone’s arms behind them while shoving them out the door, and all sorts of other generally inappropriate stuff. I also learned how to listen.  Since I spent most of my 20s tending bar, I probably wasted a solid two or three years of my life listening to other people’s problems.  Which I’ve since found to be quite the transferable skill, especially when you’re dealing with toddlers (or teaching college freshman, as I did before this hubby-and-family gig.  God almighty. If there’s a hell, I’ll be spending eternity grading freshman composition papers).

But you know, a funny thing happened after a while.  I couldn’t stomach any more woe-is-me stories from men who sat drinking for three hours every night but couldn’t find the time or energy to reconnect with their wife and kids.  Blech.  Take some responsibility for your own life, you motherfuckers!  At least that was what I wanted to shout at them.  Instead, I moved to Indiana (yes, I really did say that) and went to grad school.

For creative writing (ha-ha, yes, I said that, too.)

Which explains how I came to be writing a blog about My Life and Problems.

The difference, of course, is that I’m using this handy-dandy little space to try and actually solve some of my own craziness.  That’s the hope, anyway.  Which brings me back to that oh-so-boring idea of responsibility and I-guess-it’s-time-for-me-to-take-care-of-my-own-stuff instead of offloading everything onto my poor hubby.

Today’s lesson, children, is Trying Not to Feel Guilty for Taking Care of Your Own Needs.  I must have been a Catholic in a past life, because somewhere along the way, I definitely inherited more than my fair share of guilt.  Shocking, but true.

As I talked about a bit last week, I’ve been kind of spinning out lately because of Ken’s dad’s cancer and all the stuff that brings up for me (my dad died of cancer, his family doesn’t address anything directly, just like mine; the parallels are easy), and after yelling at the kids for the 80th time yesterday for no good reason, I realized I needed to get a grip.  Which meant I needed to get out of the house.  To complicate matters, I’d invited my mother over for dinner and was in grave danger of picking yet another obnoxious fight with her that she didn’t deserve.

I fished around for possible outs.  I could toss back a couple of beers, sure, but that would only make me feel better until my buzz wore off, at which point I would probably totally flip and make life a living hell for my hubby and kids (not to mention mother).  I could also try and get some exercise, which usually helps me regain my sanity.  And then I remembered that there’s a great dance class I’ve been wanting to catch but never do because it’s smack in the middle of our dinner.

I looked at the kids.  I looked at my mother.  I looked at the clock.  And then I bailed.

I mumbled a quick explanation to my mother, who understood (easy enough since she’s all-too-often watched me morph into the Hulk before her very eyes), pointed out the fish that Ken could cook for dinner once got off work (15 minutes and counting), climbed into my trusty little bat-mobile, and peeled away.

Oh man, talk about freedom! Joy! Peace! Sanity! And I’m not just talking about myself, either.  My kids were infinitely calmer by the time I’d returned–the whole scene actually looked like a clip out of some surreal reality show, with Ken playing a saccharinely-sweet kid music CD (the kind we generally eschew), and Nico and Gabriel dancing around while my mother (WWII child-of-war that she is) followed them around force-feeding them the remainders of their dinner.

I definitely need to do that more often.


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7 Responses to Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

  1. dana March 18, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    way to go T!

    I think Michelle told me early on, you need to put your own oxygen mask on first.
    Trying to do the same as you lately and it definitely makes me a saner person and a better mother who actually enjoys being around the kids.

  2. tpajevic March 18, 2011 at 9:40 pm #

    Very, very true. It’s funny, but Ken’s actually been the one telling me that lately. How are you holding up with your own oxygen mask?

  3. Pamela November 20, 2014 at 6:55 pm #

    This article helped me realize that I am the problem in the marriage and that I need to take a deep look at what is really important in my life and is fighting all the time worth giving uomy bestfriend? No it is not and I tend to work on myself everyday

  4. Pamela November 20, 2014 at 6:59 pm #

    I can relate to this article because after reading it I realize this is the way I am treating my honey and he is the only person that has stood by me no mater what. Maybe instead of me think of him and then just maybe we will find each other again

  5. Pamela November 20, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

    I am tired of fighting. I give up Huey. You will get what you want since I do say mean things to you. I love you
    Iam ready to put my own mask on and clean up this mess I’ve made .

    • Tanja November 20, 2014 at 10:23 pm #

      Good luck, Pamela! Hang in there and let us know you’re doing–use the tips we’re sharing here (especially on the post about resentment) and let us know how it goes!


  1. Enough of the Fighting, Already! | Reboot This Marriage - July 1, 2013

    […] Now, this isn’t something we’re doing consciously—I mean, it’s not like we’re waking up and saying, “I know what I’m going to do today! I’m going to fight with my husband!”  But damn if this article didn’t get my attention.  There was a lot of conflict in my family when I was growing up, and for a long time this was how I connected with people.  (When I wasn’t twisting their arms behind their backs, that is, but hey, that’s another story.) […]

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