We mothers — and, I think, especially those of us who mother children with special needs — have heard the advice: “Take care of Mama, ’cause if Mama ain’t happy, Ain’t nobody happy!” I’d always interpreted that to mean that if the kids and Daddy don’t do things to help make Mama happy — like not fighting, picking up their toys, buying her diamond stud earrings and taking her out for dinner and dancing once in a while (LOL, as if) — then Mama will be miserable, and she’s going to take everyone down with her.” You know, the whole misery loves company phenomenon. Recently it was suggested that the tenet is saying I need to take care of myself, and keep myself “happy” so that I could take better care of my family!
Hmmm… Do more for me so I can do more for them? OK, I’ll add that to my already impossibly long To-Do list right after “Schedule the blood draw and drop off the stool samples at the lab,” “Call a CSE meeting to add another weekly OT session for The Boys,” “Convene the Old Soul’s 504 Committee to add the ‘check agenda daily’ accommodation,” “Find a regular weekly appointment time to see the Old Soul’s therapist,” (because the irregularity is killing me) and “schedule a meeting with the Old Soul’s science teacher and the school psychologist about not implementing the 504 as required by law.” Maybe I could squeeze this new task in right before “Go to the gym” and “Get to Weight Watchers meeting on Friday at 10am”… Neither of which happens because the kid’s meetings trump my gym and Weight Watchers. No, I’m not always in school meetings or running life-sustaining errands (though it sure seems that way to me). But, when I’m not, I need to WORK so we can pay the bills and buy the food! Yeah, I get the concept that I need to pencil in some time for myself. I do… and it actually happens some of the time (read: rarely, when I actually NEED a break emotionally before I crack)! But, the basic needs of my children which — besides food, shelter and rest — includes educational and medical pursuits, override all those wouldn’t-it-be-nice ME tasks.
My therapist (God bless the special needs mother who doesn’t have a non-judgemental ear to listen to her daily trials, tribulations and triumphs) shared with me that the taking care of myself first is like the advice you get when traveling on an airplane. In case you’re not familiar with these instructions: you’re traveling on an airplane with your child. If the plane runs into serious enough trouble that the oxygen masks deploy, flight attendants advise adults traveling with children to put the oxygen mask on themselves first and then help their children to do so. The logic: you can’t help your child if you’re dead. This NEVER made any sense to me. If we’re in that much trouble that I could die from not having my oxygen mask on before there’s time to get one on my child, then hell if I’m not going to put it on my child first to boost his chance of survival over mine!!! I can hold my breath longer, remain calm in times of sheer chaos and formulate a plan through crises. Thanks, but if only one of us is going to survive, I’m going to hedge my bets in favor of my child’s survival and put the mask on her first. Her survival is more important to me, than mine. When the ship goes down, they didn’t tell the parents to jump in the lifeboats first, and then save their kids. The MEN–’cause chivalry wasn’t dead in those days–were told to put the Mamas and the children in those lifeboats to ensure their safety. And, with the Mama’s in charge, their children–their well-being and lives–come first!
At least for me!
Afterall, I brought these totally dependent little creatures into this world, didn’t I? God gave me the awesome responsibility of caring for these amazing miniature human beings until they can care for themselves some 18+ years from now–or more for those who coddle their post-college children. (I can say that now LOL, ’cause I’m sooo far away from that day. I can stand here on my soap box and proclaim, “not me, ba-by.” But, we’ll see how I do when it’s my turn to cut the proverbial apron strings–if I actually ever own an apron, which I don’t, and if I’m lucky enough to help my children achieve that level of independence at some point in their lives). It is my job to raise up these children to be living, responsible and contributing members of our society.
So I sacrifice!
Buying the iPad loaded with special education apps to use daily with The Boys is more important than me going on a summer vacation to Disney World every year, let alone once in our lives. New sneakers that fit their growing feet are more important than the pair of worn out boots I’ve wanted to replace for myself. Hair cuts to keep their bangs out of their eyes so they can see the chalk board at school trump my should-be-bi-monthly-but-only-happen-bi-annually (if I’m lucky) hair cuts.
YES, I admit it, I put the care and well-being of my children first, before me. Obviously, my basic needs (and then some, as I’m a tad overweight) are met in order to survive so that I’m here to take care of my children. I’m eating, sleeping, laughing and occasionally even get some new clothes when mine finally wear out… because that’s what I NEED to survive. Key word “need!” In the animal kingdom, many new Mom’s winter with their babes without eating. She and her infants all live off the fat of the Mama until she emerges from the maternal den, svelte, with a brood of healthy, thriving youngun’s. Then, to the extent that any Mama is, she’s “free.” That’s what I’m talking about! (The svelte part would be nice too, but it ain’t happening here.) As Mamas, it’s our job to nourish–the Old Soul’s vocabulary word this week, meaning to provide with food and other substances necessary for life and growth; to promote and sustain the growth and development of–our children. Nurturing and nourishing my children sometimes overshadows the pursuit of my own happiness, but never ever my survival.
I begrudge no one their hair appointments or trips to the gym. If you’ve got the coverage, time and energy… BY ALL MEANS, go for it! I would! I try daily. Sometimes I get there — in between all the necessary child-rearing tasks and all the other things I want to do that encroach on all the things folks say I should be doing for myself — more often I don’t. You could say I’m wintering with my youngun’s right now. Providing for my children and living off my own “fat” — memories of freedoms past and yet to come — until I’ve grown them up to be independent enough to give me a moment to work-out, watch a non PG-rated movie with my husband or shop leisurely for a new pair of boots. It’s just not in my cards right now. And those who say I need to fit those things into my life before I collapse… are, well, in my opinion, a tad off… for me. Because not doing for my children would drive me to mental collapse waayy quicker than not going to the gym. I need to do this mothering thing all the way, as much as — actually, more than — I want to go to the gym. And, I desperately want to go to the gym.
Mind you, I’m not one of those Mamas who sign my kids up for gymnastics on Monday, scouting on Tuesday, art classes on Wednesday, karate on Thursday, roller skating on Friday and soccer on Saturday. I’m the let’s-wing-it-and-have-some-fun Mama. We play. We laugh. We live! Right after we struggle through homework Monday through Thursday. For me, the key is not doing less for, or with, my children but learning to say NO to all those other extraneous tasks that encroach upon what little time I have after I do what I must to grow my children into the as-independent-as-possible little human beings they can be at each stage of their lives and to the best of their abilities.
I know I’m not alone. I believe whole-heartedly there’s a bunch of Mamas out there who feel the same way I do. I’ve met quite a few. And while I’m a little tired of doing so much–I know I can’t do less for my kids. And, I’m just as tired of people telling me I have to do more for myself.
I love my life! It’s extraordinary, really. I would just like a smidge more time to sit back and enjoy it…. with my kids and my husband. I know that’ll come, right after the needs of my still-dependent-on-me children are met. So, if you’re tempted to ask me to take on the class party preps or become the Girl Scout troop leader — all on the heals of telling me to do more for myself — please know I’d love to help, really, but I’ve gotta learn how to say “NO.” You see, I’m on my way to the gym before the school nurse calls with the next emergency, right after I make a pit stop at the lab.