• Alastar Connor

Oxygen Mask

Another evening, another glass of wine. To relieve this pressure, right between my eyebrows. My bleary eyes from 5 hours of screen time. My tired ears from constant noise. “Mommy, mommy, mommy.” My “quiet” moments filled with the background of school videos, one ear listening to hear when I’m needed.

They say that when saving your child, put your own oxygen mask on first. With the state of education, our income, and my children’s well-being at stake, how can I step away to put my mask on? As I climb into bed, exhausted, craving quiet alone time, my husband joins me and casts his gaze my way. “Oh honey, I’m gasping for oxygen over here. I have nothing to give.”

Sometimes I am asleep before I even hit the pillow. Then the dreams begin. Moments that remind me of “The Shining” with friends, family, and children all in danger. Running, protecting, hiding, rescuing. A warped narrative with shifting walls, dangerous ghosts, and arguing parents that I need to mediate.

I wake exhausted every day. My body aches all over...it feels like never-ending injuries but I’m beginning to see that it’s just a symptom of lacking air. I am always in pain. I am always worried about getting sick. I am paralyzed with fear that a loved one will get sick and my whole life as I know it will be gone. My calls to some of my favorite businesses, that casually sag their masks under their noses, end in mocking tones and disdain for concern and my rule-following ways. The overall bigger world energy of mourning, loss, and fear colors my days. Those feelings have been lingering like a chain on my ankle for so many months and now winter, with long indoor hours without friends and flu season, is looming.

My children’s education is the match that lit the final explosion. Covid and quarantine were a slow gas leak but the school piece detonated the bomb. Lack of learning time, too much assistance needed for hours and hours, denial from school administration, dissonance among parents about what the solution is. I try to fill the momentary pockets of the day, when Coralie is watching a video on math or reading, participating online, leading parents in the community to each other, uniting them, informing them, accumulating the rage and hoping they find a way to fuel a solution. But still it burns.

When I finish assisting my daughter with 4 hours of assignments, all I want is a break, a moment to recharge, but her eyes swivel from the computer to me. “Let’s play Mommy! Can I have a playdate over?” I am so drained, from these months of constant stress, the bigger world picture dragging on even after the solution to our highest issue, employment and income, ascended onto the horizon. The politics and anger in the world are the knots in my shoulders. I’m so tired of re-centering those around me. I’m tired of digging down inside myself to find the inspiration needed to pick myself up and keep going along. I’m tired of feeling powerless, grasping for the smart way to get myself out of our current reality, in my smaller world, and in the larger realm. A call made to help with racial injustice, a small donation to my political party, another email sent off to the school committee, just small plinks in the piggy bank that don’t add up to much progress.

Sometimes, in the afternoons when I try to connect with my older kids and give myself permission to blow off whatever needs to be done that I didn’t get done while schooling Coralie, I find my laugh. It sneaks up on me and bubbles out and I think to myself, “There I am!” She’s gone as soon as I find her. Like trying to catch the eggshell when it keeps running away into the yolk, getting further away the harder I try to put my finger on it.

I am admittedly a thinker. I feel revived and alive when I am put into situations beyond my own mind, when sensation and beauty takes over for my brain. Surfing, swimming, sailing, skiing, hiking, and unplanned adventures. Meeting someone new and learning all about them, reading. Digging in the dirt, running. Music, dancing, singing. Painting, poetry, writing. These are my oxygen mask. How can those recharging moments fit into this current world that caregivers of young children are living in? I NEED to be able to offer myself up to everyone who needs me, but right now, I feel like a deflated balloon being blown by many frantic breezes in so many directions.

On the two mornings my little is at school, I am overwhelmed trying to shove everything that is needed in my adult life into those brief childless moments. I know the key is to let go. Which balls juggling in the air do I drop? Who gets the short end of the stick? Which thing, in hindsight, will have been the most important? I can tell you, without a doubt, that I am fiercely loving my children. That is a truth I will go to my grave with. But would I have loved them better, would they have known the real me more, would I have been a better role model if I had found a way to put my own oxygen mask on first? All I can say is, here I am, writing, the words pouring out like a little puff on my inhaler, and cheating with some liquid courage (which probably isn’t the answer but seems better than the tension in my forehead.) For today, that will have to be enough, and if anyone finds the answer, please let me know.

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