I was determined to stay at home and raise my children when they were young, despite the financial hardships of living on just one income. With six children very spread out in age, I was a stay-at-home mom for the better part of 20 years.
I really believed in what I was doing as a stay-at-home mom, but many days I felt like I was getting nowhere and spinning my wheels. I felt like each day was the movie ‘Groundhog Day,’ a repeat of the day before.
I lived for years in survival mode. Twice I had three kids under 6 years old. In those days my life was babies, sleepless nights, and constant diaper changes. I thought I would never get out from under the loads of laundry and piles of shoes when all of my kids were living at home. Lacking sleep, I considered each day a success if every child was fed, clothed, and still physically intact at the end of the day.
I often dreamed of going to a nice, clean, orderly office where I could speak to adults in a clever and professional manner instead of watching cartoons and playing referee to endless quarrels about who hit whom first and who touched someone else’s stuff without permission. I longed to get away and have some time to myself, eat an entire meal without getting up, shop uninterrupted, and shower without someone banging on the door.
That dream is now my reality. I go to an office while the kids are in school, where someone else cleans the bathroom and takes out the trash each day! My workspace is organized. My scissors and tape are always exactly where they belong. People compliment my work, and they even pay me for doing it!
It would seem my fantasy has been fulfilled, but it isn’t nearly as enjoyable as I had once imagined. This week, I went on a business trip and stayed at a very nice hotel, wandered the mall alone, ate at nice restaurants, and soaked in a deep oval tub every night. Somehow, it didn’t feel like paradise: I missed my family and felt a little lonely and nostalgic the entire week.
Deep within my core, I really miss the old days. I miss the smell of a sleeping baby. I miss rocking and singing someone to sleep. I miss the nights when quick little legs ran down the hallway and slipped into our bed where they were safe from nightmares.
I miss tiny fingers and pudgy toes, new haircuts that make a son look like he’s suddenly aged a year, and the tooth fairy business. I miss chubby baby cheeks. And, the smiles, the unabashed smiles and giggles that happen before they learn to care what anyone else thinks.
I miss having someone warm on my lap. Nobody sits on my lap anymore. And I find myself not knowing what to do with my hands. What do people do with their hands when there is no child to hold?
I miss feeling like the work I am doing is worthwhile. For the work of motherhood, while very messy, is noble. I miss that my little children thought I was invincible and all-knowing. I miss those little faces looking up at me and soaking in every word I said — the clean slates, before the world butted them over. My kisses healed bumps, bruises, and broken hearts. I was their defense against everything from monsters to natural disasters.
Nowadays, I see how they look at me, and I know they realize that I am just as helpless to monsters and natural disasters as they are. I can’t even make a decent French braid or sing all the words to the latest song on the radio. As it turns out, eye-rolling is a big part of living with teenagers. You have to be thick-skinned to survive those years.
My older children have grown up, moved away, and are living their own lives. It’s a different kind of joy to know them as adults. As I watch my youngest turning into a young woman, my heart breaks a little every day. I have to remind myself to let her grow up. It’s her turn now. She can’t be my baby forever. (The eye-rolling has already begun.)
Phrases like, “Enjoy it while it lasts! They grow up too fast!” always came at a time when I was about ready to throw in the towel (like that would even be possible for a mom to do). I suppose those comments were meant to give me encouragement, but I felt even more discouraged because “enjoying it” was just another thing that probably wouldn’t get done that day.
Now, I find myself thinking (but not saying) those very same things when I see young, harried mothers with little ones tagging behind them. I want to say:
“Turn. Turn around and look into the eyes of your children. Tell them something that makes them feel special. Make a memory. Slow down. Give a hug. And if you can’t ‘enjoy it while it lasts’ today, at least endure it well. They do grow up way too fast.”
QUESTION: Do you spend your time looking forward, back, or right in front of you?
CHALLENGE: Go through pictures or a memory book, and think about the past, present, and future of your journey. Take a moment this week to connect with your children and focus on the present.
Image Source: Michelle Chase