This recent back-to-school season was an important one for me. My youngest child headed off to a full-day, five-day-a-week preschool program, leaving me and my stay-at-home lifestyle to figure out what comes next. For the past five years, more or less, I always had someone near by, and usually that someone needed things. And then, one day I dropped both kids off at school and a whole new world began. [Cue the dude on a magic carpet to fly in and take me for a ride . . . .]
I expected to have all the feels, to mourn the passage of the stage; but it has not happened, at least, not yet or not in the way I anticipated.
A few things have surfaced during this transitional phase of my life, realizations only made clear by the dynamic of my newly child-free hours:
1. Apparently I talk to myself. Often. I had never noticed before since there was always some one else there who served as an audience, even if they weren’t paying much attention. But now I still walk the aisles of the grocery store chatting away to the empty grocery cart seat; I ask myself questions aloud like “what is that doing there?” and “who wants another cup of coffee?” I find myself talking to the furniture and dishes and other inanimate objects. In fact, I just took a pause in writing this to have a short conversation with the Roomba about his relentless desire to suck up a bead necklace over and over again: “Roomba, go to your charger and think about what you have done. You can come out and clean again once you agree to the rules of this house.”
2. I just don’t like doing dishes. Loading and unloading the dishwasher, scrubbing pots, putting away six hundred pieces of plastic flatware, and generally working through the mound of dirty dishes in the sink has not become any more enjoyable now that I have more time to do it. I still go to bed ignoring the task and feel too busy in the morning to deal with it. Because I no longer have the excuse of being “busy with the kids” all day, I have to admit, I just don’t want to do it. So there.
3. Nature truly abhors a vacuum. In the weeks leading up to the first day of school, I had pleasant daydreams about all the things I would get done once I got my days to myself. There were chores that would finally get done, projects to do, books to read, exercise regimes to start and maintain, time to catch up on my professional work, an attention-starved dog that would be hiked with, and naps to finally be taken.
According to math and the construct of time, I really ought to have an extra four hours (being conservative with that calculation) in each day that previously was filled with the care and feeding of my adorable children, who now are being educated, entertained, and fed snacks by trained professionals. That should be four hours a day that, should I choose to, could be spent watching paint dry, or twiddling my thumbs, or even doing any of the gazillion things that really should be attended to like groceries, cleaning, showering and the like. And yet, somehow, with the absence of my daytime parenting duties, a whole slew of other things have come rushing in to fill the void. My new “free time” has vanished into the ether.
One benefit of being continuously busy is that it has left very little opportunity to be sad about the stage I just left behind. I loved being at home with my children and I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to do it. But I think I am okay with moving on. At least, for the moment.
Let me pause here, gentle reader, to explain something about myself. The day after Thanksgiving I start listening to “winter holiday” music. Exclusively. And I don’t stop until the sun goes down on December 25. And then I am done and ready to move on to the next holiday season. And rarely do I feel like it went by too quickly, or I didn’t get to be festive enough for long enough. I did it, I enjoyed it, time for the next good thing.
And so, when I entered into Club Parenthood, I suspect I have been doing something similar.
I doubt there is a parent anywhere in the world who, at some point in the early stages of becoming a mother or father hasn’t been told, usually by a stranger at Target, to appreciate those early years because it all goes way too fast. I think I was first told during a time I was on information overload, trying to absorb and internalize all the “right” and “good” things to do as a mother. And I heard the “enjoy it, it goes fast” thing multiple times. And it became a mantra for me.
As was predicted by family and strangers alike, time has indeed gone by quickly. My pregnant belly turned into a real live baby (twice!), my babies went from tiny to rolling to crawling to standing to staggering to walking to running and jumping. Their sweet little baby sounds have evolved into sweet (and sometimes sassy) voices, asking questions and telling terrible jokes that usually have the word “poop” in them. My children have held my fingers, then my hand, then my iPhone.
And it really has gone fast. I have done my very best to enjoy the moments, even the hard ones, holding on to that universal truth: “enjoy it, it goes by fast.” This idea, that babies aren’t forever, was planted into my brain at a very young age. My own pediatrician had a framed cross-stitch of a woman in a rocking chair holding a baby. Next to it was written: “Cleaning and scrubbing can wait ‘til tomorrow, for babies grow up, we’ve learned to our sorrow. So settle down cobwebs, dust go to sleep; I’m rocking my baby, and babies don’t keep.”
I think of that cross-stitch all the time. And I think I have done a reasonable job at enjoying the phase we are in while we are in it. I certainly have done a good job of putting off dusting. I feel like I have been soaking in these young children to full saturation. I have had lots and lots of adorable, sleepless nights. I have been nursing one or both of my children for almost five years. I did play-dates, and sing-a-longs, and baby sign language. I have cleaned up pee and poo and spit-up. I have had to make up the narrative for Good Night, Gorilla 1,647 times. I have fallen asleep face to face with my children, feeling their breath on my nose and cheeks. I have kissed hundreds of boo-boos, sung hundreds of verses of “The Ants Go Marching,” and made thousands of snacks—some that were even eaten! And I have taken pictures. These days go by fast, but I will not forget them quickly.
I feel a twinge of mom-guilt that I don’t feel overwhelmingly sad about moving on. Is it okay to be okay with this? On the first day of school I didn’t cry as my youngest bounded after her sister and into her own classroom. I was proud of those kids. For once, it felt like the right thing at the right time. And I felt ready to move on to the next thing. Which will move pretty fast too, I’m sure. Better get to soaking in these preschool years.