I find that the most unnerving part of any flight is when the flight attendant reminds me that if all the air in the plane happens to disappear, I should secure my own air mask before helping my children.
By Annabel Monaghan
I find that the most unnerving part of any flight is when the flight attendant reminds me that if all the air in the plane happens to disappear, I should secure my own air mask before helping my children. I’m not really worried about the air disappearing, but if it did, the idea of helping myself first seems completely counterintuitive. I can’t imagine saying to my child, “Hey, hang tight and hold your breath while I help myself to this free flowing oxygen…”
We always help our children first. We feed them when we’re starving, we read to them when there’s something good on TV. I’m pretty sure putting them first is written in my employment contract. To the men on the plane, the air mask thing is probably logical. How are you going to be able to help your kids if you’ve just passed out from lack of oxygen? I guess that makes sense, but as a woman I may need to hear it a few more times.
Women are a self-sacrificing breed. It’s innate. I mean we are genetically programmed to say, “What’s that? You want to be born? Help yourself to my birth canal. It won’t bother me a bit.” They come out thirsty and we offer them the only parts of our bodies that still look any good. “Have at it, no problem, there’s a painful surgery that will fix those right up.” From the day we become mothers, we’re pretty darn accommodating.
My mother-in-law doesn’t sit down to dinner. She starts cooking dinner the minute she finishes cleaning up the lunch dishes and then buzzes around while we eat, asking us if we need more coleslaw. I have never needed more coleslaw and I have actually never seen her eat. I’m not quite this obliging, but I frequently take the food off my plate when my kids want seconds or go without completely when the package of chicken is a little light. This is just our nature; we are built to nurture our young.
My mother was a major giver, but when it came to her own fun she took care of herself. She went out on Saturday nights, no matter what. I’d watch her get dressed, and I’d long to be forty. I grew up thinking that being an adult would be as glamorous and fun as her Halston dress and bright red lips. I wonder if kids these days dread growing up, seeing adulthood as a time of drudgery and self-sacrifice. Adulthood looks a lot like driving other people to do things that they want to do, and then sometimes staying to watch them enjoy it. Maybe the reason our kids won’t move out of our houses is because they are afraid to end up in servitude to their own children.
I don’t want to end up completely crazy. And I really want my kids to want to grow up. So I’m trying to embrace this idea of watching my kids struggle for a second while I deal with my own air mask. I started on Saturday. On Saturdays I usually stand in front of the stove, off and on, for three hours, preparing made-to-order breakfasts as my children wake up in shifts. Between feedings, I hunt down cleats and drive to the farthest corners of Westchester County. By the time the last child is up, the first one wants lunch. There is no air flowing for me on Saturdays, which is a shame because I spend the day smelling like bacon. So last week I got up and had my coffee first. I read my favorite column and went for a run. By the time I was ready to fully engage with Saturday, I was armed with caffeine and endorphins. No one starved to death while they waited, and everyone breathed a little easier.
The flight attendant is always careful to caution us that even though oxygen is flowing, the plastic bag may not appear to inflate. That’s totally true. My small gasps for air have gone nearly unnoticed by my family. What they notice is that I’m a little softer around the edges and that my good humor lasts until a little later in the day. I’m trying for small things: did I exercise today? Did I eat something that wasn’t shelf-stable? Did I sit down to write something? If I hit two out of three of these, I feel pretty good.
I’m also thinking about becoming a stronger swimmer. I don’t believe for a second that those seat cushions can be used as flotation devices.