Running Out of Gas

When I was 16 years old I had to share a “lemon” with my older sister. My kids didn’t know what a “lemon” was when I mentioned this the other day and I tried to explain how horrible an olive green station wagon with faux wood panels was…especially to a new driver in the throes of teenagedom where one doesn’t want to stand out. My parents thought it quite a joke. They bought a key ring with a picture of a lemon. In case we didn’t get it, my sister and I, the word “Lemon” was written underneath the picture. Thanks.

(BTW, my middle-aged sister worked her butt off at McDonald’s and bought herself this teeny-tiny adorable car that she jetted around in, driving with concentration, her visor at the correct angle to account for her curled and hairsprayed bangs)

I digress. The point is, I hated this car. And, I didn’t have a lot of money. So, I’d put whatever money I had into the gas tank, drive it around, and then turn it over to my older sister. She did the same to me until one day I was driving and pushing the gas pedal and yet, somehow, slowing down. The cars passed by on my left. I assume the drivers gave me a quizzical look as I grabbed the wheel more tightly and began rocking my body, trying to get that car to move forward.

It went slower. I pulled over to the side. The gas needle was very clearly on E. I got out, left the keys in the car (who would steal it?), and walked to my friend’s house. From there I walked home. My older sister wanted the car, demanded to know where it was. I told her. “Over on Route 22. You can’t miss it.”

What I remember is that sensation of pushing the pedal, but slowing down. The actual action of running out of gas. My character Rachel experiences this. She’s given everything she has in trying to save her son. She’s asked to give more and she does until she physically collapses, the voices around her sound muffled, her vision is blurry, and she collapses.

Has this ever happened to you in real life? It’s happened to me twice in the past month. Yes, I know, that doesn’t speak well to my learning my lesson. I was always stubborn. But, I also struggle with being a people-pleaser. I WANT people to like me even though I rationally know that my desire is INSANE. I say “yes” to too many things.

Teaching an adult Sunday School from Lent to Easter.

Parent helper for the Elementary Science Club for five weeks.

Teaching seven fitness classes a week.

Running a household with six people: laundry, lunch packing, dinner making, homework checking, projects, grocery shopping, shoe shopping, gathering too small clothes for AmVets, buying little gifts from the “Valentine Dove” (yeah…that’s a different story).

Classroom mom.

Supporting my son’s basketball obsession — playing both rec and travel and against the walls of my house — and driving my twins to gymnastics, and keeping track of my daughter’s horseback riding lessons.

Walking the puppy in the freezing cold and rain because he is potty trained and we AREN’T going to regress.

AND I WAS REVISING MY NOVEL WITH A DEADLINE. You know, my personal dream that I’ve been chasing for years.

I was running out of gas, pushing as hard as I could, cutting out anything that wasn’t directly related to work. There was no time for friends (oh, and I gave up Facebook for lent so I didn’t even have that pleasure), no time for reading, no time to enjoy my kids, no time for myself. No time!

And then I was done. I smacked into depression and I no longer had a choice. I had to cut back. That is, I could only do the bare minimum to function. My husband noticed. “You’re such a drag,” he said. My son noticed, “Where’s your sense of humor?” My twins noticed, “Mommy needs a massage!”

But no one stopped me from running out of gas. I was mad — everyone was willing to take from me, but no one was ready to take care of me. I was mad at other parents. Why doesn’t someone else step up and do something about starting middle and high schools later? Why aren’t there more volunteers at church so I don’t always feel like I have to “step up”? Why can’t the kids make themselves an after school snack without completely destroying the kitchen?

Here’s the thing. We’re all responsible for ourselves. Yes, it’s nice when we have a partner or parent or friend who is tuned in enough to advise “slow down” or who will make a nice dinner or give a gift to “fill the tank.” But, we have to take responsibility and not get so low in the first place.

I started doing little things. My husband watched the other kids so I could take my oldest daughter to the nail salon. She got a mani, I got a pedi. It sounds silly and frivolous, but it made a difference. I was doing something because it was fun.

Here’s a list I’m making for the next time I get out of balance, start giving faster than I’m filling. I will take care of myself with:

  1. Real food. When I’m stressed and running from task to task, my eating habits drop. Solution: Turn to veggies and hummus, crock pot recipes, and fresh fruit.
  2. Exercise. My job is to exercise right now. But, in hindsight I should have called in a sub for help and let myself rest.
  3. Sleep. I don’t think I’m the only one to try to get more done in a day by staying awake for longer, but it will catch up to you. Lack of sleep makes you feel hungrier, less able to focus, and more emotional.
  4. Less caffeine. Again, I don’t think I’m alone in drinking coffee to make myself move faster. Same thing. I need rest, not more fake energy that leaves me feeling unable to focus, dissatisfied and impatient.
  5. Physical. I just rescheduled my dentist appointment from December.
  6. Mental. It sounds crazy, but even when you are revising, read a book. I fell in love with books and piling up “to be read” when I finished my “work” was actually harming me. I wasn’t getting the stimulation to my brain and imagination.
  7. Social. Yeah. I had coffee with my across-the-street neighbor this week. First time we’ve done more than wave since December. Yes, she’s a busy mom and artist (photographer) and I’m a busy mom and artist (writer), but we have to make time. Relationships are important.
  8. Family. Spending time with your family that isn’t the “business” of life. My niece came by. She’s on her spring break. It made me so happy to talk to her and then watch her with my kids. Cousins rock.
  9. Look at pictures of adorable animals. ¬†St. Pattys¬†Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
  10. Fun. This is probably the hardest for me. My husband too. We both work hard and push aside activities that are “only” fun.

Do you have any ideas for ways to fill your tank so that you don’t “run out of gas?” Would love to read about them in the comments below.