I have been a single mom for the better part of my 20-year-old son's life. And for the past 10 years of it, I have had virtually no help in raising him. My parents moved back to Croatia when he was about 8, and his father, bless his soul, was not that much help to begin with and moved back to Southern California during the last recession.

My son and I remained in Oakland alone in 2009, and I made it work. I started a new business working from home. I prioritized my work and my appointments around dropping off and picking up my son from school, cooking, and everything else a mom does. It was fine.

And by fine, I mean I have been single for the past 10 years, because frankly I did not have the bandwidth to handle a kid, a business, and a boyfriend all at the same time. For those of you who might not be aware, trying to date as a single mom means that on a Saturday night after working your ass off all week and burning the candle at both ends, someone expects you to get dolled up and go out to dinner and possibly even have sex. But at the end of the month, they don't help pay the rent. I'll pass.

What I meant to say is I made this single mom thing work by prioritizing my son and his needs above all else. Next came the job, because, well, I had to pay the bills, and lastly came me. Always.

I did, however, do one thing for myself. I studied and developed my spiritual awareness; I learned the tools to clear traumas and unwanted behaviors and raise my consciousness. Whatever free time or extra money I had, I devoted to this practice. It was frankly what kept me together all these years. Somewhere along the way, I heard this phrase "put your mask on first." What that means is if you do not take care of yourself, you cannot take care of anyone else. It made sense, but as for applying it to myself, at the time all it meant was dedicating some time to my spiritual practice.

Anyway, time passed and to my endless pride and joy, my son one day got accepted to Cal Poly. In September of 2018 he went off to college. After spending the past decade dedicating myself to raising him, I was suddenly an empty nester. It was hard at first, I missed him so much and some days I just did not know what to do with myself. After years of keeping busy every second of every day, I felt like I had so much time on my hands. A year went by like this and slowly I adjusted to my new life without him. I was finally able to make time for a long bath, a massage, a good binge-watch, or whatever else I might have felt like doing just to make myself happy.

I even started working out again, alternating my practice between yoga and other workout routines, taking vitamins, carefully curating my diet foods that are good for me, and drinking almost a gallon of water a day. I even started thinking about dating again.

I was finally able to make time for a long bath, a massage, a good binge-watch, or whatever else I might have felt like doing just to make myself happy.

Then Corona hit. After some initial back and forth, my son decided he would come home to finish out his last semester online, so on a moments' notice, I rented an SVU, drove down to San Luis Obispo, and packed up his dorm room to bring him home. And just like that, life changed... again. All of a sudden I forgot about me, I was focusing on making sure my son ate three square meals a day, that I washed all the dorm linens, that I put away all the boxes, and that I stayed on top of my own work. In a matter of three days, I lost my workout routine, I was sleeping two hours less a night, munching on chips while at my computer, and forgetting to take my vitamins again. That's a year's worth of self-care down the drain.

On the fourth day, I woke up exhausted, miserable, and wondering what was going on here. I looked back at the last four days of my life and realized that, once again, I was putting myself last. It only took a few days living like that to really tell the difference. I could feel the toll it was already taking on me to not take care of myself. I was sure that had I kept up my routines and my practices, I would have been better off not just for myself but also for my son. He needed my best, not my "barely making it" self, and so did I.

It was a wakeup call. And as I was filling up the tub with water, Epsom salt, and a touch of lavender oil, I thought to myself, "put your mask on first." Everyone will be better off because of it, especially you.


Nadja A Pentic