I don’t really know how it happened, but one day I woke up and my children weren’t babies, or toddlers. They didn’t need me to pour their cereal or lift them out of their crib. They didn’t need me to dissolve pink syrup in the milk-filled purple sippy cup. Sippy cups no longer live in our cabinets or, more accurately, leak on the stained fabric between faded car seats. The stroller in the trunk has long been replaced by lacrosse equipment. The sweet new baby smell has grown into the scent of sweat and the reminder to my 9-year-old that he needs to take a shower (yes, right now).
Last weekend, they were all in the house, all doing their own thing. And it was quiet. Four kids—all independent and quiet. My mind was blown.
I asked my husband, “Is this really happening?”
His response: “They’re not yours anymore.”
With hesitation and bordering on the edge of tears, I responded, “Yes, they are.” Who asked him anyway? Shit.
They still need me. But it has evolved into the other place. I’m no longer in the thick of the everyday—just like that.
Before any of them rode a school bus, I used to take them to a toddler morning at a local roller-skating rink where you could bring bikes and scooters and baby doll strollers. Inevitably, whatever you schlepped inside would instantly be no longer wanted by your child as soon as they saw the new Big Wheel that another child was riding. The whole thing was a hot mess, but we needed to get out of the house to be able to survive winter.
The center of the rink was the thick of it. This is where there were seats for the nursing mothers, where the full-body tantrums happened, where the tears were relentless and the falls of the beginning skaters happened again and again. This is the place where everyone’s hands were full. It was where mothers gave each other reassuring nods that they were not alone. They too understood that you had to get out of the house no matter how difficult it was to leave and how challenging it was to make it through the present moment.
And then in the outer ring there would always be at least one momma on roller skates. She had older outer-ring children who knew how to ride on skates and bikes without training wheels. They no longer needed her hands to hold them up. She still was there but more as an anchor than an appendage. Her hands were free. She was smiling. She earned the other place.
I never thought I’d be her.
But I am.
When you are caught in the thick of motherhood—the tears at the roller rink or the grocery store meltdowns or the endless sleepless nights—it seems almost impossible that any other place exists. I am here to promise you this: One day you will be in your home and you will only hear the sounds of the outdoors. You will be able to complete a thought. You will be able to drink coffee while it is still hot. And it will scare the hell out of you. I also promise you this: It will be remarkable. You will have earned the time. You will have earned the quiet. You may even miss the noise. And it’s OK if you don’t.
But you are still needed, every single day. You are still the chef, the chauffeur, the laundry chief, the therapist, the mediator, and the all-knowing master of whatever item your child loses or needs that day. You are still the queen bee—for life.
That outer ring has no end. It just keeps evolving into a different ring, a different place. It’s easier in so many ways, more challenging in others.
As much as it breaks us down, it builds us up. So whatever place you find yourself, please know that it is hard, and it is beautiful, and you will survive it. And somewhere there is a mother who sees where you are and longs for just one day to be back in that place. She fervently misses the fullness that used to be in her hands. She misses the sound of it, the laughter in it, the smell of it, the wholeness and the hope of it all. And that is the heart-wrenching bittersweetness of all that being a mother is. It is an unparalleled journey.
Here’s to all the places of motherhood.
Here’s to us.