Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Good Advice for Those in the Trenches of Parenthood

I start a habit of feeding myself first at meals. If it is lunch time, I eat a little earlier than noon, then I fix lunch for the kids. My children are shocked and appalled at the idea of me sitting down for a luxurious half an hour to eat and read. They come into the kitchen one after the other, duckling mouths agape.

"Mommy, BUT I'm hungry!" yelps big brother.

"My tummy is getting sooo angry," complains the princess.

"AAAAAH. Get baba momma!" shouts baby Bigfoot, thrusting the components of a sippy cup in my face.

"No," I say, with practiced calmness. "Mommy eats first, then I will make you all lunch."

They gasp in succession of height.

"That's right. Now go in the den and play until I call you." I continue.

Out they march to strategize.

Big brother, the diplomat, re-enters first, alone.

"Mommy. I am very much in need of a peanut butter sandwich. Here. Sign this contract that you will begin making our sandwiches immediately." A white sheet of paper slides across the table. There is a long line with an X crudely drawn at the bottom of the page. Big brother happens to also have a pen handy.

"No deals. No lunch until I'm done eating." I persist, handing him back the paper and pen.

Big Brother sighs, smacking his head with one hand in what appears to be over-exaggerated frustration. Then he storms out of the kitchen to get reinforcements.

For a minute things are silent. The six year old diplomat is reporting back to the other ducklings that negotiations with mommy have broken down. Then I hear it: the stomping of feet.

Big Brother returns with his army of two siblings. They stop in front of me, three sets of hands on hips.

"We're hungry!" Shouts the princess.

"AHHH!" mimicks baby Bigfoot.

"I don't care. You have to wait five more minutes please." I say, heartlessly, not looking up from my book.

So right there, in the middle of a battle, I finish eating my pulled pork sandwich and drinking my lemonade as bodies fly onto the floor and flail at my feet. Lunch breaks were never so interesting.

In her book Life is a Verb, Patti Digh suggests that sometimes in taking care of others we ignore our own needs. Digh writes:

"We don't put ourselves first for fear of being called selfish. Not to our face, of course, but in those quiet moments when people make infallible pronouncements about others, the kind that allow for no ambiguity: He's selfish, she's self-centered, interpretive words to measure someone else's outside from our own inside, tinged perhaps with our own longing, our own set of insecurities or inadequacies, knowledge of our own faults and fears." (119)

The author mentions a sentence that she heard spoken on an air plane by a flight attendant. "In case of emergency or a loss of cabin pressure, put your own oxygen mask on first, then help others around you."

This idea becomes the title of her essay, Put Your Own Mask on First, in which Digh talks about how taking care of yourself is not selfish.

I don't feel bad about feeding myself first at meals. It prevents me from picking at food while I make other people's meals. It keeps my mood even when chaos is breaking out around me. With my own mask on first I can function. The last time I was on a plane and heard that safety speech from the flight attendant, it caused me to smile. Who would have guessed that the instructions: Put your own mask on first would also help me survive life on the ground?

16 comments:

Putz said...

the first part of this blog reminded me of my good friend richard kroff....now i don't mean any offense to any one, just reminiseing.....his father used to eat separate from the family...the mother would make him a steak and let him sit silently and then the kids would eat their hot dogs later...she would eat bread and milk even later than that...richard said that he loved his hot dogs and life, and that the man of the house deserved that kind of respct..maybe, i don't know...now richard eats with his whole family and sits back and enjoys sharing all the food with everyone like normal people do...he says that is ok tooooo

Milk Man said...

This is hilarious. Living this along with you the words came alive in a clear visual of the scenario.

caitysparkles said...

I remember when my mom made lunch for us when we were growing up (she ran a day care in our home so was always there) she would cut the crusts off and eat them while she made our sandwiches. We didn't like the crusts anyway and I don't really know how it's relevant but this just reminded me of that.

That actually makes a lot of sense, though. Being full and content yourself, you're better able to help those around you. I think that's a great motto to live by.

Loren Christie said...

Hi Caitysparkles,
I always eat cheese while I make the kids lunch, especially if it is fresh mozzerella.

Loren Christie said...

Mr. Putz,
Your friend Richard's mother must have been a wonderful wife.

Koala Bear Writer said...

This is an awesome post! :) So true. Though I've taken to doing the opposite--feading Sunshine just ahead of my husband and I, so that I can sit down and eat with him.

Loren Christie said...

Hi Koala! I've done that too...

jenX said...

this inspires me to be more disciplined in my approach. at my house, it's breakfastlunchdinner all. day. long. drives me crazy! i wipe down the table 15 times. this isn't normal, right?

Loren Christie said...

Jen, no, that is completely normal. Fight the army! You can do it. I lose battles sometimes.

Ronnica said...

I'm not a mom, but when I become one, this'll be something I'll think through. I know that I get grouchy when I'm hungry, so I'm easier to be around if I'm fed!

Loren Christie said...

Hi Ronnica. Welcome and thanks for the comment.

Amanda said...

I think this is a great piece of advice I really haven't heard often. I really value it being that I'm going to be a new mommy in approximately a month. I've always grown up watching my mom put us kids first in everything. I'll have to remember once in awhile it doesn't hurt to help yourself first.

Loren Christie said...

Hi Amanda, Well, congratulations! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

Lauren said...

Wow, I really enjoy your writing style! :D I found my way over thanks to Caity's last blog, and I'm glad I found your site. ^^

I think it's great that you can remember to still take care of your needs. :D Like you said, there are so many people who don't stop to take a break because they consider it selfish, but it's not wrong to know how to take care of yourself. :D

Kimberly said...

Very very true! I am just starting to really understand how the idea behind "put your own mask on first" really applies to our life as mothers overall. I love your post! Very clever and funny!!

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

This is great! I do this even when I'm at a party with my kids or hostessing a party myself. Once I have all the necessities on the table I make myself a dish and sit down. At a party I'll make myself and my 3-yr-old a dish and let the other members of my family fend for themselves. If we starve to death who will take care of them?

Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.

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