I pressed the ignition in my car at 6:45 a.m. to take my daughter to middle school orchestra rehearsal. I felt my hands clench tightly around the steering wheel, admonishing myself for not remembering to get gas on the way home late last night, the stress creeping into my already tight shoulders.
There was no time to fill up before getting her to school. Of course, we were already running late.
I said a little prayer that I had enough fuel to travel to her school and then to the nearest gas station a few miles away.
The orange warning light came on as I backed out of my driveway.
“You are almost out of gas!” it screamed at me.
No joke. Like I needed that reminder.
It was one of those weeks.
We had band concerts to attend and soccer practices to get to and school projects to finish. My husband was out of town for meetings and one of my children was just diagnosed with strep throat. The house looked like a hurricane hit it and the refrigerator only held a jar of salsa, a floppy piece of celery and an empty milk container that one of my kids lovingly returned instead of throwing it out in the recycling.
If I had a fuel gauge on all aspects of my life right now, the warning light would be shining brightly.
Relationships: running on empty
Job performance: close to empty
Parenting: hanging-on-by-a-thread empty
Taking care of myself: dead empty
I constantly run on fumes, hoping if I can just make it to the next place, do the next thing, I can possibly fill up my tank.
But life doesn’t work like that. Life doesn’t naturally fill up your tank. Sometimes you have to stop what you are doing and fill up, and I often forget.
Like finding the nearest gas station, we have to seek out what makes us feel full, what makes us feel complete.
Like any mother, my to-do list is full of cumbersome and mundane tasks that have to get done—calling the plumber about our clogged sink, following up on an insurance claim, finishing a report, taking my daughter to the dentist and my dog to the vet.
I say no when I can, outsource what I am able, but we are in the busy season of parenthood, and I want to be a part of all of it.
As I move from activity to activity, I try to find time for the things I love, but I never seem to complete anything before moving on to the next—a movie with my kids, a workout, a dinner date with my husband, a book recommendation from a friend. I seem to hit empty before finishing any of them.
Most of the time, I relish in the frenetic pace of the life I created for my family of five. I run happily from here to there, bringing a dozen cookies to a game or dropping off a gift card to my kid’s school for a PTA project.
I somehow manage to keep my head above water by rotating what gets the most of my frazzled attention, always feeling like I could be giving just a little bit more, always believing it’s not my best.
Until I hit empty, and I no longer remember why I’m doing any of this in the first place.
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After dropping my daughter off, I hastily get gas; but instead of checking my phone like I normally do when I stop for a second, I sit in my car and breathe. I decide to get a cup of coffee, and I drop off doughnuts to a friend whose son is sick. I return a package that has sat in my car for the past month and feel accomplished. I phone my mom and listen to her stories instead of complaining about my busy-ness.
And I breathe. It’s like I can almost feel my soul filling back up to the full line.
My to-do list is not getting shorter, and my life will not slow down anytime soon.
But running through life with my gas light on isn’t good for anyone either.
Life gets so hectic sometimes that we get used to running on empty. We are so accustomed to it that sometimes we don’t even see the warning light.
I know I didn’t. And I almost ran out of gas.
Take care of yourself today. You’ll be glad you did.
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