If traveling with someone who needs assistance, please secure your own oxygen mask before helping others.
I had always thought this part of the airline safety instructions was sort of selfish. Why wouldn't you help someone else first?
Then I became a parent, and it all became crystal clear. If I'm not taking care of myself, I can't possibly take care of Elsa. This probably seems obvious to anyone who is a parent, but it was a revelation to me, the same way the "quarterback slide" finally makes sense.
I used to admonish quarterbacks as being wusses for sliding instead of taking a hit. But really, they would be doing their team a disservice by being knocked out a game for an extra couple of yards. Others depend on them to lead, so if they get injured, they are hurting the entire team. So really, sliding to avoid getting hit instead of going for a first down is an unselfish act.
The same can be said for mothers. We laugh at the saying, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy," but it's true. Those moments spent going for a jog, having lunch with a friend, or even writing a blog post are good for my soul and make me a better mother because I then have the energy to focus on Elsa rather than thinking of all the other "things" I have (or admittedly want) to be doing. Plus, I like to think that I'm setting a good example for my daughter of how to lead a balanced life.
Lest you think I have it all together, I most certainly do not. Even though Elsa is nearly nine months old, I still forget that I cannot just add "taking care of a baby" to my old life and routine. "Taking care of a baby" has changed my life...for the better, yes, but not for the easier. I still don't understand how people can manage to do so many things; I must be doing something wrong because there are days that I don't even pretend like I'm going to take a shower, let alone make dinner from scratch, create something crafty, or clean the bathroom.
This parenting thing is hard. One of the things that makes it hard is that there is no time off. No weekends or summer vacations to look forward to, no opportunities to catch up on sleep or laundry. While I am still thankful to be able to stay home with Elsa most of the time (I am equally grateful to still be able to teach a class or two), I totally get the need to work outside the home. Sometimes I really just want to hide out in an office and alphabetize things...because that's what people in offices do, I'm sure.
I never realized how protective I was of my own time before I had to share it. Service to others has always been an important part of my life, but I now recognize that it was mostly important when it was also convenient. Being on call 24 hours a day is not always convenient...which truly makes it service, I think.
I am not surprised to learn that having children does not increase--and in fact, sometimes decreases--people's happiness. Of course not. But what all those studies fail to note is that it does increase fulfillment. I don't always enjoy teaching, but it does fulfill me. I think that's how it is with a calling. And if parenthood isn't a calling, I don't know what is.
*Clearly, I am not the first person to have this epiphany. Thanks to Linda Hoffman at http://chalcedon.edu/research/articles/airplane-philosophy/ for the concept of "airplane philosophy."