I was three when I took my first international flight. I was 18 when I did my first international trip solo. I don’t know about you, but that was the last time I paid attention to the in-flight safety instructions. Since then I have lost count of the number of times I have played leap frog between states and countries and I’ve never once had trouble buckling my seat belt without assistance or locating the nearest safety exit – because everyone knows those are the seats with the most legroom.

And then I had kids.

In the blink of an eye I went from zoned out can-sleep-anywhere-anytime traveler to a mama who felt every bump and lurch of the plane from her kids’ perspective and wondered how the heck she would navigate the track lighting to the nearest exit hauling a child if anything went wrong. Suddenly safety mattered. (Well, safety and being sure not to run out of chocolate milk or a change of clothes at 30,000 feet.)

So, imagine my surprise when I paid attention to the pre-flight instructions and let it really sink in what they were saying,

Remember: Your Oxygen Mask Comes First
If emergency masks come down, grab the one dangling in front of you and put it on first. If your brain is starved of oxygen, you can pass out or get disoriented, in such a situation, you won’t be able to help your child get out of a plane.

Stew in that for a moment. Because it is profound advice.

Mostly because it’s the  exception to the rule that puts mom at the bottom of the totem pole in Every. Other. Context. On a daily basis there are a million and one needs besides our own that must be met. Taking a sick day that isn’t related to a child is almost unheard of. Until suddenly you find yourself yelling at your kid for no good reason or locking yourself in the bedroom with your laptop and hulu tv online so that you can disappear for an hour or so, even if it’s only into your own imagination.

Remember. Your oxygen mask comes first.

Last week I discovered what it’s like to surface from motherhood for a few stolen moments and just breathe.

If your brain is starved of oxygen you can pass out or become disoriented.

Being a mom is both the greatest and most difficult thing I have done. It is also the most demanding. Your personal space and body are no longer your own. There are hands constantly tugging, petting, loving, fighting with you, on you, at you. It is loud. It is confusing. It can be extremely disorienting. Just when you think you have a baby stage figured out, it changes.

In such a situation you won’t be able to help your children get out…

When I am overwhelmed my reactions to otherwise ordinary events can be overwhelming. And I am no good to my kids like that.

So I struggle to find my own mask first and put it on.

Because it’s a good one.

Some days it looks like this.

Women Soul Friends via lisajobaker

Women with comfy shoulders for crying on that transcend distance and time zones. Since this picture was taken in Kyiv, Ukraine we have had marriages and babies and grad school and big questions to share. But when I need to breathe, they join me to come up for air.  Just looking at this picture brings peace. It reminds me of who I was then and what I’ve learned en route to here.

These are the friends who can’t take away the hard times, but they can sit with you through them. You can find comfort simply in their company. As moms we willingly sit through the long dark, cold hours of the night with a sick child. But we rarely ask someone to just sit with us. If we are hurt, tired or lonely we press on regardless.

We are the one member of the family we most frequently forget.

So, please onsider this your safety reminder: if mom doesn’t come first (at least occasionally) it’ll be that much harder for everyone else.