Put Your Mask On First And Polish Your Nails If You Want To


“Don’t worry if the lawn isn’t mowed, or the laundry is piling up”, they said. “Let the dishes rest in the sink, and the trash overflow. Who cares? You have more important things to focus on” I cared. The advice people tend to give you when you’re experiencing a monumental event in life (like caring for a terminally ill child) is often fraught with good intention, but can also be just plain devoid of reality.

The ironic twist here is this: did any of these people stop and offer to come wash my dishes or do my laundry? No. Funny, how did they think we would eat our meals and what would we wear after two weeks of denying our obligation to keep up our home? To the best of my recollection, no one ever offered to mow my yard or take out my trash. No, I did all of those things.

It’s true, I had some very majorly important things to focus on, and the point of their statements was well meaning and innocuous enough, but even so, life was still happening all around me.  Why can’t the little things be important things too?  Why did they have to suddenly stop mattering to me?  The grass didn’t stop growing, our clothes didn’t just stay clean. I still had to function within my household (and Life) aside from just my role as caretaker to my child(ren).

One thing I can tell you is that if these tasks weren’t taken care of, I would have felt even more stressed out, and unstable in my life at that time. It was important to me to maintain my established routine, no matter how trivial it may have been, in order to keep going. I needed something I could count on. Something that was regular, mundane, and consistent. Plus, I needed clean clothes and plates to eat off of.  And even more shocking…I wanted a clean house!

I wanted my makeup applied and my hair curled every day. I wore heels, I put on jewelry, and I polished my nails. These were the things that made me feel like myself. These were the things within my control. This attempt at continuing on with life in general, despite my very important circumstances is what allowed me some sense of normalcy and helped propel me through my grief.

If I would have been forced to set it all aside and focus on nothing but the fact that my child was dying, we would have existed in a rabbit hole. I wasn’t willing to take us down into that dark place. Instead, I sailed gracefully above the water with my head held high, and kept my feet underneath, where no one could see them, flailing about mercilessly as I attempted to keep us afloat.

Tending to your daily obligations that exist outside of what may be the main factor in your life, does not mean that you will automatically be falling short in tending to that main factor. The two are not mutually exclusive. If our ability to love, nurture, comfort and care for others is a well, we must make sure we replenish it from time to time before we realize in a moment of crisis that we’ve completely diminished our resource.

The reason that you’re told to put your oxygen mask on first on airplanes is so that you’ll be taken care of and will still be useful to others. A mother’s instinct is to help her child first, but you can’t help anyone if you’re passed out and slumped over. You can’t help anyone if you can’t focus because you haven’t had a shower, or a hot meal, or you feel disgusted by the three inches of roots showing on the top of your head or the fact that you’re still wearing your three-day-old yoga pants with yesterday’s mascara.

As a mother in this society it’s constantly thrust upon you that in your every waking breath you must be attending to your child’s needs.  Well I believe that taking a moment to refresh your mind and body does not make you selfish, it makes you human.  It gives you a fresh perspective and your ability to care for others will be strengthened in your resolve to also care for yourself, so put your mask on first, and by all means, polish your nails if you want to.

2 thoughts on “Put Your Mask On First And Polish Your Nails If You Want To

  1. Heidi Sawyer

    just reading this brought tears to my eyes just imagining myself doing the same things if placed in that situation. Your story is so powerful and you are a true inspiration to me and I’m sure many other mothers.


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