For the past two weeks, my Facebook newsfeed has made me weepy. All those pictures of kids on the first day of school…where did the time go? Wasn’t it yesterday that I was getting my kids ready for the first day of school?
Every year, I couldn’t wait for May, when we would be freed from the rigors of schedules, activities, PTA fund-raisers. But by the 4th of July, I was ready for school to start back, ready for those schedules to create order out of the chaos of a houseful of kids who always needed a snack and an adventure.
My favorite commercial of all time is this one, from Office Depot, as this is totally how I felt when it was time to go back to school
But once your kids are out of school, you realize that it doesn’t matter when Spring Break is or when the holiday break starts. The school calendar no longer defines your life or dominates your plans. Freedom from the school calendar comes with a price…the price of knowing that an important chapter in your life is closed…forever.
Once, when my kids were pre-schoolers, I was at a meeting at my church. Child-care was provided so I gratefully checked Austin and Emma in with the sitters and was looking forward to an hour with adults, talking about anything that didn’t involve Power Rangers or Barney.
I was one of those moms who always made sure my kids looked cute, even if I didn’t, and this must have been one of those days when I should have spent a little longer in front of the mirror because a friend who was older than me, and who’s children were grown, approached me and said, “You look like you could use a hug.”
How I envied her easy elegance! She was so “put together.” She didn’t look haggard or rushed. I imagined that she had started her day with a cup of coffee in her orderly home, maybe reading the paper or returning phone calls and emails in peace and quiet.
My day had started with crying babies and barking dogs, with tugs on my pants leg and little hands reaching up for me every way I turned. I had left my house in a hurry, always late, with dirty dishes still in the sink, with dust so thick on the tables that my kids had been drawing doodles in it, and a pile of laundry sitting by the washer. I was holding on for dear life until naptime, when I hoped I could run the vacuum or dust the furniture or just sit and breathe.
My friend took both of my hands in hers, looked me in the eyes and said, “It will get easier.” I was surprised that it was obvious that I was struggling so. She went on to say,
“I promise you…one day you will realize that it really only takes about 15 minutes to load the dishwasher and it really only takes about 30 minutes to go to the grocery store. And when you realize this, you’ll realize that 18 years wasn’t enough.”
I thought, “You’ve lost your mind…18 years is forever” because when you’re knee deep in diapers and school calendars and soccer practices, you can’t see that the finish line is looming closer every day. I didn’t know how right she was until I left my daughter at the University of Georgia and cried all the way back to Huntsville because my friend had nailed it …18 years wasn’t nearly enough.
I will never pack another school lunch again. I will never have to bring snacks to the ball field again. I will never have to attend a teacher conference or sell wrapping paper or sit, shivering, in the bleachers at never-ending hockey games. And it makes me sad to know that part of my life was over so quickly.
Now, don’t get me wrong…there were many days when I wondered why in the world I ever thought it had been a good idea to birth these two tiny people. Here are some of the things I remember thinking or saying…often…when my kids were little:
How can you possibly have so many opinions? You’re two!
How in the name of God did you climb up there/break that/do that? And why?
Where did you learn to do that gross/silly/maddeningly annoying thing?
Why was I so proud when you started speaking in complete sentences before your first birthday and when will you ever shut up?
I’m in the bathroom/on the phone/hiding in the closet and refuse to come out unless you promise to bother your dad for the rest of the night.
I don’t know where your action figure/doll/tricycle is but if you find it, you’ll probably also find your missing shoe/backpack/brother.
Why did I think it was a good idea to invite the entire neighborhood over to play in the sprinkler and what can I tell their mothers that will make them call these heathens back home?
Where the hell is a babysitter when I need one?
But even on the days when I wanted to drop my children off at the nearest fire station, with notes pinned to their clothes that said, “Our mommy has lost it…please help us,” I reminded myself of my friend’s words. Her caution helped me keep my perspective. I could say to myself, “this phase won’t last forever…they will become independent…someday, I’ll have time to myself again.”
So, I pass this advice onto you young moms…
It really does only take a few minutes to do the things that you struggle to complete in a day, 18 years isn’t nearly enough and you will be sad when there are no more first days of school…
For about a week…and then those feelings of wistful nostalgia will be replaced with relief that you’ve already done that. And you look forward to grandchildren…so that you can watch your children play for the other side and struggle just like you did.