Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Year of the Oxygen Mask

I don't typically "do" New Year's resolutions, but this year I did.  Why bring up my New Year's Resolution in April, you may wonder?  Well, because my resolution has a lot to do with why I haven't posted anything here since last December.  No, not the resolution itself - I didn't resolve to abandon my blog - but rather the fact that my resolution was something I thought I should talk about here, and at the same time I didn't know quite how to approach it.

See, I resolved to spend this year taking care of me.  Me, myself and I.  But I don't want to give the impression that I am "quitting" this whatever-it-is-I-do, this sort of vague and unidentified job I have undertaken for the last couple of decades, where I fill in for the role of "mom" whenever a stand-in is required. No, it isn't that I am quitting that job, just that I'm taking... A reprieve?  A respite?  An opportunity that happens to present itself just now, this year, at a time when it just so happens that I need it.  I need it for me, of course, but I also need it so that I can go back to taking care of them, and be better at it.

My daughter, now 23 years old (the eldest of my biological kids), moved out on her own a few months ago.  My foster son - who won't speak to me right now (of course I still love him), but that's a whole 'nother story - is out of the house and working through his senior year of college.  My original "strays" have all gotten their own apartments or houses, started careers or families or both.  There is a new generation of "semi-strays" who do spend most of their days at my house and turn to me for mom-related services, but none of them live here full-time and none are in a position where I'm responsible for them.  And my son, my youngest, will both graduate from high school AND turn 18 within this month.

Thus, the opportunity for some "me time" presents itself, and it is an opportunity I must take.  Years of taking kids to doctors but never taking myself to one culminated in my finding myself (predictably) a physical mess.  The discovery of some of my own medical issues actually started a few years back, once I went to the doctor myself for the first time since the day my son was born over 15 years prior (yeah, I didn't even go to the follow-up appointment after his birth), and more problematic discoveries have been made since.  It's time to take care of all that.  Decades of making sure the kids had good breakfasts and lunches that were packed from home with care, but paying no attention to my own diet, left me unhealthy.  Years of making sure every kid who came into my home had everything he or she needed, but not receiving any payment (no child support for my own kids and no money from other kids' parents, or from the state for my foster son - money which I refused, but again, that's another story) left me financially devastated.  And all the drama - the drug problems and pregnancies, legal problems and emotional baggage, issues with schools, medical and mental illnesses - those things that came to me strapped to the proverbial backs of all these kids - they left me emotionally and psychologically drained.  For about ten years I lived by a rule that I would not wear anything that cost more than a dollar, and of course after enough time, that left me looking like a homeless escapee from some institution.  And my house...  I won't even get started about my house.  Suffice it to say that if something broke, it just didn't get fixed.  It started to feel like the old Little House on the Prairie days around here, with me hanging laundry on the line and... Oh, I said I wasn't gonna get started about the house.  Ha ha.  Anyway, it's time to take care of all this, time to take care of me, because I can't possibly take care of any more of them until I do.

One of the things that I am working through as a part of this "taking care of 'me' time" process is the issue of what that even means.  It's a very basic question, but more complex than I once would have thought.  Some pieces of the puzzle are obvious:  I have to address my medical problems, I have to get physically healthier, I have to repair things around the house, etc.  Those are easy matters to identify.  But beyond that it gets a bit hazy for me.

Plenty of times in my life someone-or-other has said to me, "You need to do something for yourself once in a while!"  Or they've said, "You should take some time for you!"  In the face of these well-intentioned suggestions I would usually smile and nod and sort-of-agree, but in my head there was always this thought:  I don't know what that means for me; I don't even know what that would look like.  Does it mean buying myself stuff?  But I don't really want stuff.  Doing more things that I enjoy?  But being a mom is what I enjoy.  I could think of little that I would actually want to do that didn't involve cooking someone's dinner or helping with homework, cheering one of the kids on at a game or watching them skate at the skate park, helping them plan for college or sitting up late at night discussing what they had learned that day.  I love that stuff, and I could never think of things I would want to do that were "just for me".  Even if I saw an amazing piece of art or read a great book, I would only find myself dying to share it with them.  What would I like to do or have if there were no "them" around?  I had no answer to that.  But I was always able to push the question off to be re-considered at some non-specific point in the future, because there was always some more pressing matter at hand.  Well, that non-specific future point has come.  It's now.  It's time to do some considering.

In any case, whatever direction this takes me, I'm thinking of 2013 as "The Year of the Oxygen Mask".  All of you who have traveled with children, you know the rule on airplanes:  If the cabin loses pressure, you're to put on your own oxygen mask first and then your child's.  And that's because you won't be able to help your child if you're passed out from a lack of oxygen yourself.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that this concept applies to parenting in all sorts of ways.  I can't live up to my best "mom potential" if I'm not healthy.  I can't help them get their lives in order if my own is in chaos.  I can't give them advice on living a happy life if I haven't found my own happiness.  And more importantly, I can offer them no reason why they should listen to anything I say unless they are first convinced that I'm someone worth listening to.  Who wants to turn for answers to someone who hasn't found their own?

So, I'm going to be taking this blog in a different direction for a while.  Two different directions, really:  A bit backward and a bit forward.  For my own theraputic purposes in writing about it, and also for the purpose of opening my life up to some external and objective examination (from you all), I will go back and share some stories of how I got to where and whom I am.  And I'll also take you all along on my journey as I move forward.  Maybe it'll be helpful to some other moms of grown kids out there.

Oh, and I'm sure I will throw in some current daily anecdotes from time to time with regard to the kids.  I'm certain some things will come up in that arena.  After all, I'm still "Mom".  None of this means I'll stop being "Mom" to all my kids, even if they're older now, nor does it mean I'll simply ignore any kids I encounter who need a little help.  It just means I will try not to move them into my house like a crazy cat lady who doesn't know her limits (no offense to the cat ladies, but you know what I mean).

I've been working on this for a while, since New Year's, obviously.  But from this point I'll start sharing more about what's happening with me.  I hope you will all continue to stick around and share your thoughts and input.  I'm looking forward to it.  :)


  1. Yes, it is VERY important to think about yourself! You've been unselfishly taking care of kids for years! Well, they are able to take care of themselves now, so get some of those issues taken care of that you speak of!

    It's nice to have you back!!

  2. Thank you, Reener! For everything. :)