If you happen to see me during these first few weeks of school, know that behind the brave, smiling face that my children will witness as they head to their new classrooms is a parent who is excited, a little unsure, and more than slightly sentimental. It’s a new beginning for all of us.
For the past seven years, my primary identity has been that of “mom.” The label “mom” (or “parent” for that matter) simply doesn’t cover all the roles and jobs and details that have come to encompass my daily responsibilities at one time or another: lunch maker, juice Sherpa, story reader, block stacker, diaper changer, primary nutritional source, street-crossing hand holder, playdate organizer and supervisor, public transportation adventurer, playmate, binkie and blankie rescuer. Having both kids in school all day will obviously be a big change for them, but it took me a while to realize that for me (especially in our label-defining and obsessed society), my own identity is also in need of an evolution.
It’s difficult to define yourself when your day revolves around someone else’s activities. For the first time in seven years, my days will look completely different. From the hours of eight until three, I will not attend a playdate, kiddie art, or music class. I will not make ice cream sundaes out of Play-doh or visit a children’s museum for the eight millionth time or think constantly about where the nearest bathroom is. I will not answer the questions, “What can I have for snack?” or “Is it time for video yet?” I won’t look forward to nap time. I know what my days won’t look like, but the new rhythms and schedules have yet to be decided, and the uncertainty is unsettling for a planner like me.
Part of me is undeniably happy to have this time. I have worked from home for the majority of my children’s lives, but they don’t really consider me a “working parent” (the way they definitely see my husband, who logs 70 hours plus at work each week). Most of my working hours take place before they are awake or after they have gone to sleep, so my schedule affects them very little. Being able to work during “normal” hours will free up those other hours for exercise, hanging out with my husband and friends, cooking healthy meals, etc. Having several hours each day to complete assignments (as well as take care of some not-so-fun-for-kids errands like grocery shopping) means that the time I do have with my kids can be more fun and playful and less focused on when I can begin or complete my next job.
But there’s another large part of me that feels nostalgic for this time in my life that is ending. My seven and almost five year-old will now be spending the majority of their waking hours during the week without me. Hearing about their days secondhand feels different than being there to experience them.
There were definitely days over the past seven years when I dreamed of consistently having the time to learn a new language, redecorate my home office, or simply eat an entire meal without having to get up multiple times for something. Some days (especially the sleep-deprived early ones and the occasional day in toddlerhood when battles over seemingly insignificant things dictated the mood of the day) seemed painfully long, with hours creeping by as I adjusted to completely taking care of someone else and their needs. But now those seven years with them seem to have gone by so very quickly: Did we play dress-up enough? Did I truly imprint the way it feels to sit with my child in lap and read books for hours while the curls on my daughter’s head tickled my chin? Did I say “yes” enough and really engage when my son wanted to build with LEGOs with me? Did I teach my children kindness and how to be a good friend to others and to themselves?
Along with the happiness and the nostalgia, I feel plenty of other sentiments: worry that I didn’t do enough for my career and have put myself at a professional disadvantage by staying at home so long, concern that our kids are growing up with too much tech in schools, and among all of these: gratitude. A longtime friend’s daughter died last year after battling leukemia. This girl too, should be beginning her first year at big kid school. She, too, should be choosing her first day’s outfit and excitedly picking out a new backpack. I cannot stop thinking about how many parents are out there who would give anything to feel the conflicted state in which I am currently residing. This is the way it should be: witnessing the little people whom I have watched grow on a daily basis become articulate, engaged kids who are learning to navigate the world in their own way. The fact that I am here to see it and they are here to live it no longer strikes me as something I can take for granted.
We won’t be having a third child, so some of the experiences of the past seven sweet, innocent, wonder years will be filed away, memorialized in photo albums and our minds. New experiences will replace the old ones, but I still find myself fighting the already-blooming images of the next seven years during which my older child will become a teenager (yikes) and my younger will grow into a middle school girl (yikes again). Kids are experts at living in the present, but I am still relearning this skill apparently.
Becoming a parent has been a series of transitions and adjustments, several of which were bumpier than I expected. What this particular transition is teaching me is to let go a bit. Not just of being the primary caregiver for my kids during most of their days, but of my ideas of what the future should and will look like. There are few of us whose paths in life have turned out exactly as we planned when we were kids. But I can’t say that there were many choices that I would make differently. So as we all forge these new roads, I’ll take along the skills I have honed over the past seven years (including flexibility, creativity, the ability to cook dinner while putting out the fires of sibling rivalry, and the knowledge that an impromptu dance party is an immediate and guaranteed mood booster) and see where the day takes me. I’ll be out there with fresh eyes, ready for new adventures (whatever they may be), with only occasional looks back at the days we are leaving behind.