I went for a walk with a friend this week to get some exercise and catch up on each other’s lives. We were grateful for one of the potentially last sunny days: some cool, crisp fall weather. Leaves had fallen heavily during a wind storm over the weekend and the trail was buried in gold; the air smelled of aging berries and wet leaves. It was gorgeous!
My friend and I are in different phases of life, though only a few years apart in age. I’m older. Her boys are deliciously sweet and young still. They both dash into my arms still and give me big hugs, and boyish giggles. The younger one calls me “Huggy” because I always chased him for a hug, when he was smaller. A few weeks ago, however, when I ran into them at the Farmer’s Market, he gave me a big bear hug with no effort on my part. What a joy they are. Face painting and silliness at the Market, talk of super heroes for Halloween, the sweet smell of boy sweat on their yummy little necks. Oh how I miss that! These days, my boys give me my hugs with unspoken warnings: Don’t push it Mom. I love you, but don’t push it. Not so long ago, they wrapped me in tight hugs and messy kisses: “I love you more mommy!” And while I love how each of them smells still, because I know their smells so intrinsically, they rarely smell sweet… or innocent anymore.
These differences in our children are what we talk about as we walk. I have become that older mother who’s been there, done that. She runs ideas by me and I share my experience. The advice is free, but comes with lots of buts and ifs. We’re very different people, very different mothers; I know that it helps to hear how others did it, but she’s doing a great job on her own dime. In exchange, she’s there to support me in my stuff. She’s a solid person who offers support and a kind, true ear. A hug when I need it and wonderful encouragement as I figure some things out. I am grateful for good friends like this, who are there and offer their hearts openly. And so we both had things to offer and share, and that’s what makes for good friendship really. All the better on a beautiful day, in the woods.
As we chatted we talked about how much harder it gets as your kids get older, and yet how hard it all seems when they’re little as well. So many happy, good things, but so much work at each juncture. Trying to figure out your child’s personal learning style, or when there is something that needs addressing, starts early but takes on increasing weight as those things begin to determine how your kids will do in the long run (college, social issues, etc). It’s all very real when they’re little, but it tugs at your heart with a bit more tenacity as they move toward moving on, and you realize that your time is limited… to tell them what you want them to take with them.
We walked briskly, six miles on a trail I love to walk. The time passed quicker than usual as we filled the space with our lives. Amazing how our children fill that space. She is still fairly early in this game and I warn her to pace herself. It’s a marathon, not a race. Cliche number one, but true. There are “lessons” that I can pass on now, that she his grateful to hear, and I’m still reflecting on. Don’t try and get every single dinner perfect; it’s exhausting. I advise. Dinners have become so simple now that there is only one kid at home, I add, the weight of that sitting on my chest. I’m no longer wrangling the various likes and dislikes or life styles. None of the gluten free-kosher- vegetarian-picky of this summer and years past. One simple boy, whose preferences are established. Meals are small. I’m struggling to not cook too much, after last year when we had two exchange students and a revolving door of people here. I told her all of this and she laughed. It’s so different for her right now. I didn’t realize how much I might miss all that thought and effort… someday.
“Wow! I can’t imagine getting to that point!” She tells me this as if it’s new. Oh, I know, I think. I remember thinking that too. Ten minutes ago, it seems. I’ve said it before: blink. But I keep it to myself. “I remember you telling me, years ago, that one of the first things you thought each morning was ‘what am I going to make for dinner.’ I thought it was funny then. Now that’s me! I do the same thing!” She tells me this and I remember that me, telling her those words… but it’s hard to remember me then. I remember my children so much more clearly. Myself: that’s blurry. Now my nest is nearly empty and it happened while I was dashing around making those dinners. I saw it coming; I was mindful, but it still happened in a haze. First my sweet girl was gone, leaving me with boys to men. I missed the camaraderie of her presence for a long time, now I just miss her. When Middle Man left, a lot shifted: the end got a lot closer. Only one more to go… coming up fast.
You know it’s like pregnancy, I tell my friend. For nine months you get used to less sleep, spilling things on yourself and not worrying so much about how you look, worrying about someone else more than yourself or your partner, shifting… and then the baby comes and you lose all that “freedom,” but you’ve already adjusted. The pregnancy gets you ready; having the baby is the “exclamation point” at the end of the preparation. “Totally! It really is.” She says this because she knows it’s true. “So what comes next?” she asks. Wow. Hmm.
Well, I guess raising our kids is like a longer pregnancy. Each year our efforts and worries shift, the demands change. When they’re little we ease into getting it right, and then they up the ante as they get bigger- and how they turn out, what they need, what they do, or care about, pushes us to figure out our groove. And then, just when we find it, just when you feel like you’re doing a good job, they start becoming more independent. They begin to push away a little. By high school, their every action is silently geared toward leaving us and doing it on their own. So when they finally head out the door, we’ve already started tasted more time for ourselves, new choices to make, smaller meals to prepare, less energy put out on others and more time to figure out what we want to do next. When they leave for college, I guess it’s the “period” at the end the whole experience.
My friend, walked beside me quietly. “That seems so far off, but I know it isn’t” she tells me. Nope, it comes even quicker than people like me warn it will. Now I guess I’m just trying to figure out what I do after that “period.” My friend paused for a second, and then said: “What if it’s not a period? What if it’s a dot, dot, dot?” Whoa! I’m gonna use that, I warn her. She laughs, but my head is spinning as we approach my car. Out of the mouth of babes! I guess it’s the dot, dot, dot that’s throwing me for a loop right now. The stuff that comes after those dots may have as much impact as everything that came before them. I take this in and spin it around my head. Three dots leave room for lots of things, and that is scary and exciting, from where I sit now…
Where are you in this? Taking care of little guys, or watching them go? Share your thoughts.
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