Hey you, young mother. Yeah, you. I know you. I was you. I remember well the years and years of being busy all the time, and never getting enough sleep. I remember worrying about how to do everything right. What was the latest parenting advice? I was reading it, or discussing it with my friends. Should we let our babies use a pacifier? When should we take away that pacifier? Pre-school or time at home with mommy? Teach them to write before pre-school or leave it to the teacher? Bake a cake or buy a cake? Home-made cookies are good for you, right? Time-outs, rewards, consequences, TV and how much, video games, the family bed, allowing creativity and independence versus setting limits, grandparents, play-dates, marriage vs parenting… Man, the world seemed like a veritable mine field of issues. I was young, my babies were my world, and that world was full of things to figure out. Those years were filled with some of the sweetest moments of my life and some of the most challenging. I spent the last years of my twenties and all of my thirties in that phase of parenting, and I remember it well; I still know that young mother.
Today I looked in the mirror and saw a women I met nearly ten years ago. It was a sobering moment, like many I’ve had over the past few years.
Nine years ago, I volunteered to help at the annual Track and Field banquet. My daughter, Principessa, had just completed her first year on the team, and I was there to help set up, serve lasagna, and then clean up. The mom I was working with was kind; she seemed to know everyone, she was organized and efficient. She told me that she’d been doing the Track thing for 10 years, and this was her last. It was her final banquet and her last child leaving high school; she was fun to work with, but chatting, I felt like we were in totally different times of life. I remember watching her, and thinking that she wasn’t like any of the other moms I knew. She was an entirely different bird… and I didn’t get her. I thought she was an anomaly– a mom who had somehow come through unscathed and was unimpressed by all the crazy I had in my life.
Nine years have gone by and a lot has happened; a lot has changed. I have been to Track banquets nearly ever year since then, and have been in charge of organizing that banquet two times. Over time, I definitely found myself less and less caught up in the details. All that really has to happen is that food needs to be served, and the athletes need to be recognized by their coaches. All the rest of it is icing. After so many years, I know that Icing is overrated. I volunteer to make waffles after workouts on Saturday mornings for the Cross Country (XC) team in the fall and the Track team in the spring. This is my tenth year in a row, and my final year. This year, I’m the “Waffle Mom–” responsible for scheduling, organizing stuff, and being there for most of the breakfasts. Admittedly, I really enjoy this role. I love seeing the kids come in from their runs/workouts and line up for waffles. I love to hear them joking with each other, and chatting as they eat waffles, as if I’m blind and deaf. I like being a fly, for this brief little while. The kids all appreciate our effort, and are so wonderful in their praise and thanks. It’s a rare and wonderful teen time. Nine years have passed; two of my kids have flown away and live elsewhere now; my youngest is racing toward graduation; it’s my final swan song as the mother of kids at home.
Today I looked in the mirror, just as I was getting ready to head out for the day. I was wearing There she was, the woman from the banquet: the same (or similar) cardigan; same crows feet; the same been-there-done-that expression; the same older mom who I didn’t understand, nine years ago. It wasn’t the sweater; I’ve aged. I’ve been there, done that. When I came to that first banquet, I distinctly remember thinking that we could make the event more festive, that I wanted to make sure the lasagnas were hot and cut nicely. Today, I know that the kids are there to see their friends and celebrate the end of a season. They are grateful to have the food, but that is not their focus. They don’t notice the decorations at all. We moms are invested in the details, but our kids are invested in the big picture: their friends and the team. This morning looking in the mirror, I had a very different understanding of that woman at the banquet nine years ago. I know that mother too.
Some days I look in the mirror and the years fade away– not because there aren’t lots of wrinkles, not because there isn’t a little extra chin, or too many sun spots… that’s all there, as a reminder that I’m not that young mother anymore. My kids are not little; none of us are the same, but I still have all those early years front and center in my mind. Hand me a photo of Principessa, Middle Man or Little Man when they were babies, and the years melt away. I am back there instantly. On a given day a quick whiff of chlorine pulls me back to the summers of swim team, the Mommy and Me classes in the pool– days of water wings and swim diapers. On a given sunny day, for a fleeting moment, I still want to yell “come on kids, let’s go to the park!” It’s amazing how we don’t always know the lasts when we’re in the middle of them. That last year of high school, everything feels like a last… but who really remembers that last kiddy swim class, the last wee-one picnic, the last time our little guys crawled into bed with us? It’s gone in a flash. Some days, I glance in the mirror and the years just fade away, and I forget all that has slipped away.
I’m a work in progress. Frankly, the mirror is not always my best friend these days. But that’s something I’m working on too. I’ve said it before: it’s so easy to notice the years rushing by on the faces and in the movement of our children, in the lives of my friend’s children, in the aging and loss of our parents. But somehow the years sneak up on our adult brains. It’s as if everyone else is getting older, and we’re not. Until one day, you throw on a cardigan, glance in the mirror and you’ve gone from there to here– poof!
Are you a parent? Where are you at in the journey? Where have you been, and where are you headed? Share your thoughts in the comment section. Do you wear cardigans?
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