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Flights of Fancy (Without Oxygen)

by Fred Brill

© Monkey Business - Fotolia.com All rights reserved.

I am in my final days of another weekend. Two days of granulated bliss are slipping through my fingers. I gather the remaining grains of recreation, stuff them in my pockets, allow them to settle in my eyes, ears, between my toes. On Monday, these particles of play will be rinsed off, scraped with a razor, and coated with lotions and perfume.

As the father of two children and the principal of an intermediate school I find there's not much time for leisurely beach activities or metaphors. Work swallows a good fifty hours each week, and my children gobble the remaining moments with lovely walks, enchanting books, unruly wrestling matches and treacherous cooking expeditions.

I love my children, and on most days, I love my job. So, what can be wrong during a weekend of peaceful repose? No matter the day of week or the time of year, I crash violently into the me versus them dynamic. If not with work, then with family. It's a brutal battle for balance. The hour glass sands flow swiftly during the weekend.

On New Years I made a resolution to do some personal writing at least four days a week. I made no promises about my children or my job. They seem to be in pretty good shape these days. As I poke at the buttons on my laptop, my seven year old son sits beside me carefully writing in his journal, beautiful block print. My five year old daughter lies on the couch cutting out pictures of horses.

A flight attendant appears from nowhere (no, it's not real; it's a metaphor. We're still in my living room) and interrupts my musings to remind me that if the cabin loses pressure, I am to put my oxygen mask on first. Then I can put the masks on my children. The message: I must take care of my needs first or I will be unable to care for my children.

She doesn't understand that my living room loses pressure everyday, and magical masks never fall from the ceiling. I am forced to create my own masks and paste them onto the happy heads of my children. I want my kids to grow up knowing they are safe and loved and well-cared for. I want them to be saturated in opportunities for intellectual, social, physical and spiritual growth.

And I want these same things for myself! But usually, when I am meeting the needs of my children, I am neglecting myself. And when I am taking care of myself I am neglecting my children.

Yes, I can watch Michael Jordan and Bugs in Space Jam with my children, but I would be forced to provide dangerous doses of candy and popcorn if I dared to drag them to the English Patient. I love to lace roller blades onto my kids and whiz with them in hundreds of nauseating circles. But I also like to take solo leaps into the hills and careen down curves at 40 miles an hour. These are things I can't do with my children.

When I began writing about this irreconcilable frustration, my children were by my side, writing and cutting and coloring. We were sharing a magic moment. And it lasted all of seven minutes. And then they were ready to move onto something else, while I was just getting rolling. I wanted to follow one notion around for an entire afternoon like a puppy chasing a boy. It is my new years resolution, for God's sake!

So I continued writing and writing, while I glued cut-outs and opened up a string cheese for my daughter. I cleaned trails of mucous from my son's nose and I wrenched on his socks which were too tight. But I kept writing and writing. And I only screamed at my children six or seven times.

It's a wonderful life. Rich and colorful and rewarding. So why does it feel there is no oxygen coming through when I put my mask on first?

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