This past weekend, I registered my youngest son in pre-K. I did so with a tear in my eye—well, many tears. Like many parenting milestones, it was tinged with bittersweet emotions.
On the one hand, four hours a day to myself sounds like a dream. I have been a (mostly) at-home parent for nine years. When my son starts pre-K this September, I will be entering my 10th year. That would be a decade (for those of us who have any brain cells left, which doesn’t usually include me).
I know my son will thrive there, and I’m excited for him to make friends and have fun. When we visited the pre-K, he was so enraptured with the dollhouse, building blocks and trucks, we had to drag him out by his coat collar when it was time to leave. I am not as concerned about what the separation will mean for him, but what it will mean for me.
The truth is, as much as I crave freedom from the constant care that is required as the full-time caretaker of little ones, I know I will miss it. I will miss his little body curled on my lap on a rainy day as I’m half-dozing, reading him yet another book about trains. I’ll even miss his incessant requests for Goldfish, nuggets, cheese sticks, and water bottle refills. I’ll miss sticky little hands pulling on my shirt sleeve as I’m loading another heaping pile of dishes into the dishwasher.
There are another seven months before school starts for my boy. I move through my long days with him while knowing they are numbered. It’s a strange in-between feeling. I’m happy that some of the hardest aspects of parenting will become easier soon, but I’m also reflecting upon the impermanence of our moments together. The finality of it tugs hard on my heartstrings.
When motherhood was still new to me, it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Between sleep deprivation, my kids’ intense needs, my own self-doubt, and a deep desire for pure and simple quiet, it was difficult to believe things would ever change.
But now I have a date on the calendar marked with freedom. And as I see the pages on the calendar turn, a little phrase keeps going through my head: “It was worth it.”
It was all worth it.
A decade of wiping away tears on a daily basis (theirs and mine).
A decade of incessant snotty noses.
A decade of being woken up with my eyes being pried open by a tiny set of fingers.
A decade of 12-hour days when I didn’t speak to a soul over the age of 9.
A decade of never being able to complete one single task without being interrupted 47 times.
A decade of clothes constantly stained with spit-up, pasta sauce, yogurt and juice.
A decade of coffee that always gets cold, meals that get eaten in one-minute blocks before someone wants another glass of water.
A decade of having a constant audience every time I pee, and timing my liquid intake so I won’t have to drag a toddler into a public restroom while I’m out and about.
A decade of strapping squirmy, screaming bodies into car seats, hoping they don’t fall asleep at exactly the wrong time, and never getting to listen to grown-up music in the car.
A decade of being a slave to nap times and naps that almost always end up with arms splayed across my face as I lie still hoping they’ll sleep forever.
A decade of I’m so tired I might die, and I just need five minutes of quiet, and please don’t kill each other while I poop.
A decade of forsaking monetary wealth, showers, a clean house, and sometimes (often) my own sanity.
A decade of cereal for dinner, snacks for breakfast, and a floor always covered in half-eaten sandwiches, granola bars, and crumbled Goldfish.
A decade of counting every millisecond till bedtime, and then staring at their gorgeous sleeping faces while apologizing under my breath for my impatience and yelling that day.
A decade of feeling like I can never be good enough to these boys.
A decade of being everything to them.
It was worth it. Everything, even the hard stuff—maybe especially so. The times when I was at the end of my rope, when I didn’t feel like I could do another second of it, but I did it anyway. It was love. Love saw me through. Love taught me that I could be more than I thought I could be. Love taught me how much I could do on so little sleep. Love taught me to scale back sometimes too, to cut myself an enormous amount of slack.
I know how impossible it is to feel this when it is happening. At my lowest moments, I wanted to run away. The weight of it all shattered me, scared me shitless.
But now, looking back, I only see how brave I was and how very worth it every moment was, even the most devastating ones.
I know that my son’s entry into school won’t magically erase all that is difficult about motherhood for me, not at all. There will still be many hours each day that I will be parenting my kids. And sometimes the hardships you face with older kids—while less physically draining—can be even more challenging emotionally.
Still, knowing that this change is ahead reminds me just how quickly these years have slipped through my fingers. Right now, I’m trying to live each day to the fullest. I’m reminding myself that everything that’s difficult is as transitory as everything that’s beautiful. And I am trying to remember that all of it—even the most overwhelming, harrowing parts—will be worth it in the end.