I Wasn't Ready For This Phase Of Parenthood: The Un-Needing

by Heather Christie
Originally Published: 
kids don't need

Sometimes I feel like I’ve gotten snagged in a time warp. Another summer is over. The night air is turning crisp. The soccer games have started. Dance lessons begin in two weeks. Thanksgiving will be here before we know it.

Then Christmas, lacrosse, track, recital.

And then the last summer will really, truly be here — the last summer that both my kids will be living at home. With each flip of the calendar page, there is an unsettling sense of an impending ending.

How did this happen?

It felt like it was a week ago that I was stuck at the pool with a 2- and 4-year-old. It was 100 degrees. I was worried about my post-pregnancy swimsuit figure and constantly afraid that one of my kids was going to drown. Kindergarten, never mind high school or college, seemed like it was years away. I remember locking eyes with another child-laden mom in the baby pool.

Wouldn’t it be nice to sit under that big shade tree reading a book? she seemed to say with her eyes.

Yes, I answered telepathically. I can’t wait until my daughter’s old enough to swim on her own — until she doesn’t need me anymore.

It slipped by without notice, but I haven’t been to the pool in three years. My daughter doesn’t need me to help her swim — she’d be horrified if I showed up there now. She has her friends, her cute swimsuits, and boys trying to catch her attention.

The other afternoon, I was cleaning under the bed and found a lone green Lego piece. Our family’s days of building imaginary brick worlds are long gone. When my kids were little, I had an urge to push them forward, to get through and be done with this phase. And the Lego phase was no different. Maybe it was my busy work schedule combined with the intense attention small children require that made me want to rush things. Or maybe it was the way I hated how those tiny Lego pieces ended up all over the house.

Rush. Rush. Rush.

If I could go back, I’d slow down. Build a few more Lego castles.

I tucked the little green brick into my jewelry box lest I forget.

Who stole the American Girl dolls? And the 500 stuffed animals? The princess costumes? That giant dollhouse? Maybe I should call the cops and file a police report. It’s all missing. I’ve been replaced with friends, lessons, and teams — their own interests.

And where did my sweet son’s floppy hair go? There’s a 6-foot teenager with a crew cut in his room. He grunts and says “I don’t know” a lot.

That beautiful young girl living in the bedroom where my headstrong toddler used to sleep asked me to pick up tampons and mascara at the grocery store. Oh my God!

There’s a middle-age woman with fine lines around her eyes and gray roots staring back at me in the mirror.

It’s quiet here most Friday and Saturday nights.

I’m not a young mom anymore. My kids don’t need me in the same way that they did when they were little. But the other day, my son asked me to throw the lacrosse ball so he could practice shooting. So I did.

And one morning last week, he said he wanted me to watch Boyz n the Hood with him. My desk was full of to-do lists, articles to proof, and real estate calls to return. To be truthful, I was looking forward to an uninterrupted block of time to complete my work.

But green Lego.

We watched the movie together and then talked about it. It was one of the few quiet times we had together this summer.

My daughter gets chatty late, late at night just about the time when I don’t think I can possibly stay awake another minute. But I do. And we talk. As long as she needs me, I’ll be there.

And they still need rides, and advice, and boundaries. And like newborns, they seem to need to be fed all the time. Along with the toys of childhood, the food is vanishing at a rapid rate.

But the times they are changing.

We’ve made it through so many phases. We’re headed toward new horizons, interesting adventures, exciting beginnings. I plan to savor each moment — not rush things. Watch a movie. Have a talk. Even if it means putting my stuff on hold.

And that’s okay.

It’s what all parents want, right? Independent offspring. My mother assures me that my kids will always need me just like I still need her, and that each age brings its unique set of growing pains.

I guess I just wasn’t prepared for how fast this un-needing would happen. Warp speed, I’m telling you. It’s as if the laws of physics break down when you’re a mom.

The lasts come flying at you like asteroids.

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