13 years. That’s how long it had been since I’d gone to the grocery store all by myself. 13 years of two little feet dangling off the front of the cart, 13 years of being talked into Fruity Pebbles and finding mystery items on my receipts that had been slipped into the cart while I was distracted. 13 years of temper tantrums in isle nine, 13 years of chasing a giggling toddler darting between carts and disgusted fellow shoppers. 13 years, and suddenly, it was over.
My youngest started kindergarten this past fall. For the first time in over a decade I had no kids at home during the school hours. With tears in my eyes, I hugged him fiercly and watched his tiny legs climb those steps nearly half his height onto the bus. As it drove away, I wiped my eyes, gave one last wave, and skipped up the driveway, secretly screaming in my mind, “freeeeeeddddooooommmm!!!” and imagining all that I could get done in 6 glorious hours all to myself. I went to the grocery store all alone, I folded laundry, I mowed the lawn, I organized toys, I even read some books. I played the piano again, I started a little photography business, and worked on illustrations for a book I’d written and put asside for the past 10 years waiting for the “right season of life.” That season was officically here! The past 13 years of taking care of little children came to a sudden and abrupt hault. All the “someday-I-will-have-time-for-that-again” items on my to-do list were at my fingertips. It was exhilerating, exciting, and freeing.
a bit depressing. Change is always a little uncomfortable, and after 13 years of having kids at home, this change was a big one. No one warned me this would be so hard.
It hit me the other day while I was cleaning out my 6-year-old’s closet, getting rid of the clothes that don’t fit him any more and putting them in a “give away pile” because there’s no one left to pass them down to. It hit me mid-closet clean as my phone let out a “ping!” with an invitation to a playgroup the following day– 9 am. For a split second I thought, “Oh! Playdate! Fun! Haven’t been to one of those in a while!” only to immediately be followed by the sinking realization that I would be a total creep to go because people who usually go to playgroups have diaper bags, snacks, and, well, children in tow. And, though tempting, I suppose the school district might frown upon a mother keeping her child home from kindergarten once a week so that she can pretend she isn’t a weirdo desperate for a social life and has no idea of how to achieve that without attending a playgroup where other moms discuss potty training and breast feeding.
It hit me that I am at that awkward stage of motherhood where I just don’t fit in. It’s like middle school all over again, only instead of pimples and braces it’s the onset of wrinkles and grey hair. And sadly (unlike those misserable–yet fleeting– years between elementary and high school), it will likely only get worse. I’m too old for “mommy and me” playdates, too young for knitting groups. I’m stuck right smack-dab in no-man’s land. Those years of discussing how little sleep I got the night before and diaper brands are now in the past or are yet to come.
For the last seven months I’ve been trying to figure out who I am without a child to hide behind. Trying to remember who I was before kids came along, who I will become with them no longer the center of all that I do. After 13 years of being “so-and-so’s mom,” I can finally be just me, and while that idea is exciting and freeing, I’m just not sure I quite know who that’s supposed to be.
Young motherhood is a strange thing — it hijacks your identity and changes all of your views. It steals your heart, takes over all of your waking – and sleeping – moments, makes you question every decision you’ve ever made, pressures you into doing seriously crazy things, and spits you back out on the other side a completely different person. And what’s even more weird is that we are totally ok with it. More than ok! That version of you after little kids is a far better one than the version that would have existed without them. Who knew spit-up and baby talk was the best self-help advice you could find?
I guess as I come out the other side of young motherhood, recovering from all those years of sleep-deprivation and diaper changes, snotty knoses and time-outs, I’m realizing what an incredible ride that was. I’m realizing that I’m not the same person I was before little kids, that I will never be that person again no matter how hard I try. And maybe that’s ok. I’m realizing that while those little kid years are becoming a thing of my past, I can take what I’ve learned and build on the person I was shaped into. I’m at the beginning of a new season: sad to watch slip away, but full of new possibilities, exciting propositions, and big changes. Playdates have been exchanged for baseball games, orchestra concerts, books, actually finishing projects, and solo grocery shopping trips. No diapers, no potty training, just enough sleep. Maybe, just maybe, I can figure out these “middle school” years of motherhood, discover who I’m supposed to be, find the self-discipline to not eat the entire pan of brownies when no one is around, and learn how the heck to age gracefully. And maybe middle school doesn’t have to be all that bad.