What’s Your Oxygen?

Give yourself oxygen first.

We’ve all been told this, right?  Especially parents or caregivers or professional helpers. It’s related to the airplane safety guidelines that flight attendants announce at the beginning of every flight

When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendant instructs you to put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others.  Why? Because if you run out of oxygen yourself, you won’t be able to help anyone else with their oxygen mask.

It’s a simple metaphor. It’s powerful, and it’s true. But how often do we take the time to think about exactly WHAT our oxygen is? What are the things that we need to do to keep ourselves safe, strong, and breathing so that we can give our best service to the people around us?

I decided to think about this in my quest for everyday self-care. I am not great at self-care, which is one of the reasons why I write about it constantly. And I am ESPECIALLY not good at everyday self-care – just the little things we do (or don’t do) on regular days to keep ourselves healthy and well. Like NOT eating bedtime candy. Or drinking water so I don’t get dehydrated. (Note: getting up to grab a drink of water right now!)

If I’m going to give myself oxygen first, I have to know what I need. And the same is true for all of us. I sat down one day last week and I scribbled these words on a piece of paper: Writing. Sleep. Healthy food + diet. Reading. Conversations with friends. Meetings. Time to putter around. Running. Time outdoors + nature. Adventures. Doing something new. Travel. 

I am pretty good at making time for things I need to do for self-care. But we can’t make time to give ourselves oxygen unless we know what we need.  What’s your oxygen?

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balance · self-care

April 24

The announcement was just made: April 24.

Across the state of Maryland, schools will be closed due to the coronavirus pandemic until April 24.

In some ways, it’s unsettling. There are several school districts that have closed until the end of the year, but our state is planning to re-evaluate and re-assess as the weeks progress.

I’m glad to have some information, but it does feel slightly uncertain. On April 20th, will I get another update saying we’re closed for longer?  Or will we be back to school?

No one knows. We all have to sit with that uncertainty.

That said – for now, for today – I have more info than yesterday. And that means that for today, I can set intentions for the following:

  • Every day, I will wake up at 4 a.m. to write. This will continue. I will write, write, write until my boys wake up!
  • At some point between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., one of the boys will wake up. We’ll get them dressed and have breakfast and then have some free time – unstructured playing, cuddling with books, etc.
  • This would be a good time to go running! 
  • Once everyone has eaten and dressed, we’ll head outdoors – to the Gunpowder River, to Irvine Nature Center, to Oregon Ridge – for a family hike and adventure.
  • When we get home, there will be several windows of time:
    • We’ll get home from our hike at around 10 a.m., give or take some time. So there’s a window from about 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. that is open.
    • The boys’ nap time will be from 1 to 3 p.m. I think that the boys’ naptime will be the best time for me to do work; if I have more to do, I can keep working past 3 p.m. until dinnertime.
    • There’s playtime between 3 and 5:30 p.m.
  • We’ll eat dinner at around 5:30/6 p.m.
  • The boys will go to bed at 7 p.m. After they’re in bed, it’ll be a good time for an AA meeting, cleaning, and reading before bed. I can write, if I can muster the energy, or I can finish up any BCPS work I need to get done.
  • I’ll try to get to bed by 9 p.m.

That is a glorious plan. I know it will change – the world is uncertain, and it’s not all up to me – but I like this plan a lot.

If we go back to school on April 24th, that’s 29 more days at home with my boys. The world is in crisis, and things are stressful. But this time is also a tremendous gift. The gift of time with my wonderful family. It’s hard and it’s wonderful. And/Both, as Glennon Doyle would say.

29 days. It is what it is. My thoughts and my prayers continue to be with – well, with everyone. Because this is a “whole wide world” kind of thing, and we’re all in it together.

inspirational quotes on a planner
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parenting · self-care

What Makes You Feel Like Yourself?

It can be hard to feel like yourself when you are busily parenting all day every day.

You are always YOU. Yet there are different versions of you. Mommy Kerriann doesn’t do all the same things that Just Plain Kerriann does. She doesn’t always like all the same things.

For example – Mommy Kerriann loves the beach, but might opt out of a beach trip under certain circumstances. Mommy Kerriann might decide that the amount of preparation and gear and attentiveness involved with bringing a baby and a pre-schooler to the beach might fall into the category of Not Worth It.

But, Just Plain Kerriann? That girl will NEVER EVER EVER pass up a beach trip. It won’t happen. A spontaneous beach trip that makes no logical sense in the grand scheme of life is one of the things that makes her Just Plain Kerriann.

I often reference one of my favorite podcasts, The Girl Next Door, in my blogging. One of the co-hosts of The Girl Next Door, Erica Ladd, sometimes mentions the times she asked herself this question as an overwhelmed new parent: What makes me feel like myself? 

I love this question. It forces you to think back to B.P. – Before Parenthood. What were you like? What were the things that made you who you are? I think a lot about the kind of mom I want to be, but I sometimes forget what makes me feel like Just Plain Kerriann. I have to squeeze my eyes shut and remember – when I was in college, when I was doing AmeriCorps, when I worked at an outdoor ed center – those times in my life when I felt very Kerriann – what specifically was it that made me feel like me?

  1. I feel like myself when I get to spend time at a coffee shop all by myself with my journal, a book, and my laptop.
  2. I feel like myself when I am wandering around a used bookstore.
  3. I feel like myself when I am being silly, playful, and creative. Like when I make up funny and nonsensical stories to make Edgar or Tamara laugh out loud. Or when I turned Edgar’s bedtime routine into a treasure hunt. (The treasure was a library book we’d read 30 times already, but he didn’t seem to mind.)
  4. I feel like myself when I’m reading a really great book, one that I have trouble putting down and want to prop up and read while I eat my breakfast or read frantically while I’m stopped at a stoplight.
  5. I feel like myself when I blow dry my hair. Like, all the way blow dry it so that it feels and looks healthy.
  6. I feel like myself when I spend time with an old friend.
  7. I feel like myself when I have energy! For me to feel energetic, this usually means I’m running regularly and eating well.

This list is a work in progress, as are most of my lists! I hope to add to it whenever I discover something else that makes me feel like Just Plain Kerriann.

What makes YOU feel like Just Plain You – not Mommy/Daddy You or Work You?

blackboard business chalkboard concept
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Who I am as a mother is also who I am as an individual.


self-care · writing

Knowing When To Take A Break

When I sit down to draft my Monthly Goals post, I rarely know what I’m going to write. Drafting the blog post helps me to consider what I want to focus on and make decisions about what priorities to set. One of the greatest gifts I’ve gotten from the blogging life is this space where I can explore my goals and priorities in the way that’s most helpful to me: writing it out on a blank page.

It was mid-August when I sat down to write out my goals for September, and the first thing I considered was my writing. That, all by itself, is an achievement. For the past year, I have truly made writing a priority. I no longer need to remind myself that I want to post on the blog twice weekly; the habit is firmly ingrained. (Pay no attention to my accidental beach vacation hiatus! That was a fluke.)

What I realized when I sat down to write my September goals is: I need to take a break from writing the novel.

I haven’t written nearly as much as I’d hoped to this summer, and that is okay. I am making plans to incorporate novel writing time into my regular routine once the school year starts. But right now, as I transition from staying at home with the boys to working full-time once again – the thing I am most concerned about is maintaining everyday self-care, establishing good routines, and developing a healthy rhythm for the new year. I want to meditate. I want to plan ahead regarding snacks and meals so that I don’t end up eating Commute Candy whenever I’m stressed out. I want to manage my to-do list so that I don’t have low-level anxiety that’s with me subconsciously all day every day.

None of that has anything to do with writing.

It’s about exercise, diet, meditation, and living in a way that is unhurried and intentional. And I don’t feel I can do that while also feeling the pressure to cram in writing time every morning, evening, and nap time.

I feel really good about this decision. It can be so hard to know when we need to step back from a project or activity. When we take a break, it can feel like we’re quitting or being lazy. BUT WE’RE NOT. Especially when we do it with intention. I get to choose what my number one priority is, every minute of every day.

So I’ll take a break, and I’ll revisit the novel in October or even November. (I hear November is a great month to write a novel!) Stay tuned.

beverage break breakfast brown
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Everyday Self-Care

All summer long, my self-care has been pretty great.

It’s not perfect – it never is – but I’ve been exercising, eating well, and making time for writing and reading whenever I can.

white ceramic mug filled with brown liquid on heart shaped coffee beans
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It’s so easy during summertime! The weather is gorgeous, the days are long, and there are few demands on my time. Just keep these two children alive and semi-entertained. The best thing is that I don’t have to deal with the drive home at the end of the work day; that’s when I often find myself stopping to pick up an unhealthy snack in a stress-induced haze.

Now, however, the school year has started, and I need to find a way to incorporate self-care into my everyday routine. This is always my weakness when it comes to self-care – the maintenance. I’m great at taking a day off or a weekend to take care of myself; what I need is to develop strategies for maintaining good self-care on a daily basis, so that the stress and chaos of LIFE and OTHER PEOPLE don’t interrupt my commitments to being healthy, intentional, and present.

How do people do this?!?!  My pattern is: excellent self-care, then stress out and crash and burn, then resume good self-care again. I don’t know how to take care of myself and then KEEP taking care of myself indefinitely.

However, I am hopeful. I’m refreshed after a great summer, and I now know that the key for me is developing a plan for self-care that is all day every day no matter what. It’s not about whether or not I go for a run. If I meditate before work and I run after work, but I spend the entire work day getting swept up in chaos and eating unhealthy snacks, then that’s not good self-care. And, let’s be real – when I don’t take care of myself during the work day, there’s almost zero chance that I’m going to actually go running or be a present and playful parent once I get home.

These are my tips for maintaining everyday self-care, which I’m going to test out and report back on midway through the school year:

  1. Plan ahead. Make sure you have healthy food available, at home and at work. Pick out your outfits ahead of time. Think about what’s coming – weekends away, late days at work, meetings at other schools – so that you can plan for it. YOU ARE NOT GOOD AT SELF-CARE ON THE FLY; that’s when you eat trail mix for lunch.
  2. Stretch and move and dance all day long! I don’t always have the time to exercise as often as I want. But I find that it is helpful if I just think of every moment of my day as a time to stretch and utilize energy. Like having dance parties with the boys! That’s not a workout routine but it’s definitely exercise. When I remember to move and stretch throughout the day, it helps me to not sink into a sluggish state, which then helps me to actually prioritize exercise when I really get the chance.
  3. Allow yourself time and space to think before you speak or act.
  4. Keep self-care at the center of your mind, your heart, and your life. 
  5. Keep the Planning Central space clean and clear. There’s a desk in my living room where I like to keep my planner. I think of it as “Planning Central” – it’s the place I can go to when I’m dealing with my to-do list or my schedule. When I keep that space clean and clear, it’s easier for me to feel focused and motivated to stay on track.
  6. Maintain your recovery work. Go to meetings, write your daily gratitude list, do your daily inventory, and stay in touch with your sponsor. When you make these things a priority, the rest of your life (including mental health and daily self-care) seems to magically fall into place.
  7. Do a morning and evening check-in every day. I have a plan for my morning and evening routines that includes doing a little check-in with myself – a time to ask myself, Have you slowed down? Are you being intentional about your choices?
  8. Be RUTHLESS about making sure you have time to slow down and check in with yourself. Don’t let anyone else set your pace. And don’t let yourself get caught up in chaos – yours or anyone else’s.
  9. Whenever you get off track – AND YOU DEFINITELY WILL – just get going again as soon as possible. Without beating yourself up for being human, please and thank you.

I love this plan, and I’m going to check back in on it monthly.