I signed up my littlest for preschool. Starting in September, I will have 3 child-free hours to myself twice each week. Some parents rejoice at this shard of freedom. They regard the open hours with delight, imagining the quiet, the swift errands, the to-do list toppling abilities, the ease of exiting the car without unlatching and unbuckling other humans only to relatch and rebuckle their wiggling bodies a short time later. I, on the other hand, feel simultaneously mournful and lost.
I’m not ready to have my littlest leave my hip. I’m not ready to begin closing this young childhood chapter. I’m not ready to let go. I’m not ready for this next step. He is, though. So my level of readiness is moot.
I’m lost because I don’t know what to do with the vast yet limited time. One of the 3-hour preschool days will be dedicated to grocery shopping. Because every parent knows how demanding that errand is when accompanied by one or more children. So that leaves me with one 3-hour day to do with as I choose. So what do I choose?
At first I thought I could restart my International Board Certified Lactation Consultant educational endeavor. Then I realized that 3-hours once a week provides opportunity for a sliver of coursework — the credits which nullify after a limited time period — but offers no window for the requisite supervised patient hours. Then I remembered the level of flexibility I will require for sick days, class parties, school holidays, field trips, preschool performances, parent coffees, etc. The two-day preschool schedule is not stagnant. And so the educational goal was shelved, yet again, until all of my brood is in full-day school.
So, what’s a more viable option? Exercise?? Maybe. But I’m a workout DVD person as opposed to a class go’er. By September I will likely no longer be pumping (I realized this with a heavy heart. My surplus output is dwindling at 19 months postpartum — as it should — but, natural or not, the progression is bittersweet. No more 24/7 toddler companion AND no more milk donation??? I am wounded at the mere thought.) So I will likely replace my pumping time with at-home exercise anyway. Exercise class option negated.
Perhaps I’ll volunteer! That’s a more likely choice. Given my looming milk donation end date, I will want to give back another way somehow. I began contemplating possible charities. Then I realized a more personal opportunity. Perhaps I could regularly volunteer at my eldest’s school! I have been remiss in my inability to participate to my desired degree this year given my littlest’s schedule and breastfeeding demands. Maybe that’s the solution. Maybe I might have possibly found an appropriate time filler. Something that gives me purpose. Something that still connects me to my maternal duties. Something that will make the time seem less empty and more fulfilling.
It’s hard being a stay-at-home mom. We give so much of ourselves to our children. Our identity becomes entwined with our maternal duties, just as a lawyer, an artist, a scientist, or a medical professional identifies with his/her career. Except children grow up and away.
We cheer for the development, praise the growth, but mourn the loss of our baby. To be needed in that primal way, to be wanted and loved and cuddled, to be present… it is a fleeting gift.
The constant demands of the newborn phase throw us into a world all our own. A survival-based existence of milk and spit-up, sleeplessness and lullabies. Then, in all too short time, the phase is over. The once-infant is walking and talking, becoming more child than baby. The increasing independence means that the burgeoning child is beginning to experience the world on his or her own. Once school begins, swaths of the child’s day will no longer be witnessed by us. We won’t share in those memories. We won’t know all of his or her friends. We won’t kiss all of the boo-boos or high-five all of the accomplishments. The child will be creating memories of his or her own. Without us.
As my littlest takes his own first step into the world I must bolster myself. I must cheer him on instead of holding him back. And I must take my own first step back into the world too. I must simply determine in which direction.