As a new mother, I gave myself over to my babies, every last cell of my body and brain, every second of my time, with the assumption that the chaotic feeling of having sacrificed myself would be temporary.
I approached every aspect of new motherhood with frantic anxiety, especially with my first. It was 13 years ago — I agonized over every tiny decision. Motherhood felt so enormous to me, it was as if I had invented it. I needed to share the discovery with everyone. YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE HOW MUCH WORK THIS IS, I wanted to shout in people’s faces, including people who were already parents, as if they didn’t know.
My house exploded from an immaculate, ready-for-visitors-at-any-time showcase to a toy-cluttered playground for my kids. My hours filled with doctor’s appointments, play dates, cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, and squeezing in some work-from-home work whenever I could because I hated feeling like I wasn’t a financial contributor to the household. Motherhood was all-consuming. But that early hustle was temporary. Babies are hard. One day you’ll have time for your friends again, your hobbies, your career, your body. It gets better. Life slows down.
Um … does it? When?
In some ways, the hustle of early motherhood was temporary. I have emerged from the baby years and my body is mine again, no longer subject to the demands of round-the-clock breastfeeding, no longer with a toddler dangling from each leg. Except … this isn’t my body, not the one I so willingly gave up 13 years ago. I hardly recognize this body. It’s like I left town for a decade and came back home to find the old theater has been boarded over and is sitting vacant and the local park bulldozed to build a mall. I don’t recognize this place.
And my busyness looks different, but if anything, I’m more busy. My time is (I think?) more and more my own, as in, my kids are independent in many ways. They feed themselves and clean their own rooms and bathroom and fold their own laundry. But the hustle never stopped or even slowed down. It just shifted.
I thought things would get easier as my kids got older. I was wrong.
I am still really busy. I still don’t get enough sleep. I still rush through my skincare routine because I choose sleep over a moisturizing mask and vitamin C serum. My legs are hairy AF because I always rush through showers and have to choose at least one thing to give up on, and the legs always lose. Sorry, legs. I thought once the kids got out of the baby stage, my house would be cleaner, and, okay, so there aren’t LEGOs all over the floor anymore, but now there are multiple cups stacked in each of their bedrooms, and wrappers and mismatched socks strewn about the house. I can’t keep up with this shit.
And oh my god, the driving. I marvel at parents of more than two children. How do they manage to get their kids where they need to be every day? We carpool for school (no buses here), so that helps, but UGH, all their damn activities. Of course, I want them to have activities, but holy shit, I am a taxi. Thank goodness I work remotely and can lug my laptop around and still get work done.
And my worries have grown in proportion with whatever new time I have gained as a result of my kids’ independence. I used to worry about sleep schedules or whether I should medicate my child who has ADHD. I used to fret over their diets — all organic, limited dairy, no food coloring. Now I worry about my teenage son’s friendships and social life. It’s so hard to get him to talk. I find out from other moms when there’s a conflict in his friend group.
Why doesn’t he talk to me? Is he okay? Does he care enough about his grades? Is he always as kind I’ve taught him to be? And for my daughter, is she as confident at school as she appears at home? Does she know she doesn’t have to conform to society’s ridiculous beauty standards? Have all those lessons I taught her sunk in? And what about college? Will they get in? Have their father and I saved enough to be of actual help to them?
The truth is, I belong just as much to my children as I ever did. I still drop everything for them when they need me. (When they really need me. Not when they want a snack. They can make their own damn snack.) They may no longer be babies, but they always have my attention in one way or another, and if they don’t, I’m hunched over my laptop trying to cram some work in.
So currently I have this strange mix of feeling like time is running out with them and that I should spend every moment with them because in the blink of an eye they’ll be gone — but also, I am approaching middle age and have been doing this shit for 13 years and I’m tired and want a professional massage and to attend a painting class.
I experience wild moments of panic thinking of the literal mountains I want to climb and wondering if my body will still be in good enough condition to do all those mountain-climby things once my kids have flown the nest. And yet I also don’t ever want them to leave the nest. I mean, it would be great if they picked up their socks, but damn I love these assholes and really don’t want them to leave.
Parenthood didn’t get easier. It got busier. It got more complicated and in many ways, harder. The stakes are so much higher. But as it grew more complicated, life also got richer. And I know my kids inch closer to independence every day while, despite the never-ending hustle, despite my weariness, every day I’m less and less sure I want them to leave me. All that means is that, in every possible way, absolutely nothing got easier. But I guess that’s okay. Because this sure is a rich life.