Nicole Johnson considers how moms walk a fine line between selfishness and preserving their sanity.
Oh my. He’s right. I mean, I’m fully aware, yet to hear this not-so-desirable truth about me spoken out loud—casually lobbed into the atmosphere as though it is not altogether shameful—I’m not gonna lie, it stings a little. As is always the case however, I find myself laughing along with my husband—the truth teller—because he’s absolutely right on. I am selfish. Case in point, as my husband declares in his frustratingly endearing manner, “Like when we are all hungry and you’re just over there stuffing your face.”
To which I replied (after owning the truth and a good cleansing giggle), “Mask on first, babe. Mask on first.”
To which he then perfectly replied, “Ah, I wasn’t aware that was your mother’s mantra, but now it's all starting to make sense.”
“Touche, babé. Touché.”
“In the event of a loss in cabin pressure, masks will fall from the ceiling. Parents are reminded to secure their own mask before helping others.”
He’s not wrong. I may be selfish, but I’m also pretty good at owning my faults or “areas needing improvement.” The food thing is just a non-issue. This mama gets hangry and, when I do, everyone suffers, so it’s best to make sure mama is fed at all times. In the end, stuffing my face is the most loving and responsible thing to do. I mean, come on, we’ve all heard the flight attendant’s message loud and clear. Just trying to follow the rules here.
While I struggle with taking the smaller piece of cake, walking past the last cookie or passing up the opportunity to “rest my eyes” for a few minutes (or 30) when we are both exhausted, there is one thing I haven’t kept to myself—not even a little—a mere shred—my sanity. Yup, I hate to boast, but I’m incredibly generous with my peace of mind. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I’ve helped myself to a little peace, taken a moment to let my mind rest on nothing. What does that even feel like? You know what they say about a mother’s heart walking around outside of her body once she has children. Pretty sure the same can be said for a mother’s sanity.
If I’m going to be completely honest, I don’t entirely see the need to hand off the bigger piece of cake (seriously though, I need me some chocolate more than the average Joe—which, quite conveniently, happens to be my husband’s name). I can justify that decision 'til the cows come home. I do feel the need however, to regain some peace of mind within this crazy world of parenting. Just a few minutes here and there: that’s all I’m asking. The only way I am ever successful in finding some calm in the crazy is through prayer; by handing it all over to the One who really does have it all under control.
Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
We are told several times in the Bible that Jesus took time to go off on His own to pray. I think it is safe to say His ministry was a bit overwhelming and entirely draining; not unlike the vocation of parenting. Believe you me … there have been many a day when I’ve wanted to take my leave from this happy little nuthouse. I had a moment the other day when I just needed to walk away from my daughter, her endless demands and struggle for control. She’s tricky this one, as the second I let on to my frustration with her behavior, whether through a change in my facial expression or if I raise my voice even half an octave, she amps up her behavior like I’ve just declared war.
I recently had it explained to me that we all have a “flight or fight” response to stressful or uncomfortable situations. Living with Down syndrome, our daughter’s everyday world is overwhelming and draining and it’s difficult for her to process her surroundings the way the rest of us can. This being the case, her therapist explained that she is never going to choose flight—she’s always going to choose fight in an effort to maintain some sense of control.
To put this in practical terms, every moment of every day, we need to be engaged, locked into her mood and one step ahead of her. We need to create an environment where she thinks she has full control by presenting options to her that are all acceptable. We choose our battles carefully, always weighing the fallout of a “no” with the consequences of a “yes.” And when we choose to put our foot down, we need to do so with patient, even voices and demeanor.
After eleven years of mastering these techniques, I like to think I’m pretty good at keeping her world (and ours) balanced and happy. There are some days, some moments however, that responding with patience and love feels nearly impossible. It’s those moments when I need to find my place of solitude, put on my mask, and pray for my tank to be refilled.
The other day when I needed a moment to myself, I left my daughter to play in her room and went downstairs to sit for a minute and regroup. I picked up my phone and opened the app that connects to the safety camera in her room and watched her happily play with her dolls as if nothing had happened. My heart sank quicker than a rock thrown into the water and I found myself drowning in the guilt of walking away. While no one would have blamed me for doing so, least of all the friendly flight attendant, my love for this girl leaves me always wanting to be more for her. The very same is true for each of my children; the difference being I’ve never been tested quite to this extent.
Are you aware of the interrupting cow joke? It goes a little something like this:
This is my daughter in real life, although it really isn’t all that funny. I start a sentence and two words in, it’s “Mom?” I try to ignore it and continue and the “moms” get louder and come at me with increasing speed. I stop and ask “what?” and it’s met with silence and a blank stare, with just a touch of satisfaction in succeeding to shut me down. If she’s in the room and I try to talk to someone, she’s interrupting. It’s almost as if it is no longer a conscious decision. The same can be said for the workings of my mama’s mind; the second I feel a sense of peace, my mind lands on something else to worry about—just like that darn cow.
All in all, this parenting thing leaves me living in a constant state of hypervigilance and I’m always balancing the need to walk away with the desire to be more. I love, and am grateful, that I’m not alone in any of this. Even Jesus Himself knew when He needed to don His mask before He could continue His ministry. I’m thankful He cares enough about little old me to be on constant standby, ready and available to build me back up, right my attitude and send me on my way. One day, one moment, one prayer at a time.
Copyright 2022 Nicole Johnson
Images: Canva Pro
About the Author
Nicole and her husband have been blessed with three children. Nicole markets the mission of a non-profit that provides early therapies for children diagnosed with developmental delays. She and her husband serve on the board for the New England chapter of Bethany Christian Services, a national adoption agency. Nicole's family advocates for life, adoption, and embracing children with special needs. Visit her blog at Joy in the Journey.