Pieces of me

My son’s changing table is in front of the double windows in his bedroom that overlook the street.  I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the last year and a half standing in front of those windows.  One evening last week I was doing just that as I changing him for bedtime, and I noticed one of our neighbors in front of her house.  I don’t know my neighbors incredibly well in spite of having lived here for 10 years.  Those who live right around us are old enough to be my parents or grandparents.  We’re certainly in different life phases.

And those differing phases were exactly what I was thinking about.  Not long after we moved in, this neighbor’s grandchildren rang our doorbell to sell something for their school.  They were elementary-aged then.  A decade later, they must be mostly grown, I realized.  So I got to thinking about time flying.  It does with children.  My daughter will be 5 in October and, yet, I still feel like she was just born.  My son is almost 18 months old and, yet, I still feel like he was just born. I was struck in that moment at the difference in our lives, my neighbor and I.  I was also struck by the similarities.  I marveled that it was 8 p.m. and she was out and about while I am never out and about at 8 p.m.  That’s bedtime for my kids.  But, she is beyond that phase.  Maybe she misses it; maybe she doesn’t.  Maybe it’s a combination of both.

What struck me for the first time is how short-lived this motherhood thing is.  I will be a mother the rest of my life no matter how long I live or what happens.  It is a part of my identity.  It is part of me and it won’t ever go away.  However, I won’t be consumed by motherhood the rest of my life.  Right now I’m in the thick of it with a toddler and preschooler who need so much from me.  But, they are both gaining more independence almost daily.  They will slowly and steadily need less of me.  In 17 years, my baby boy will graduate high school and move on to college.  I will have an empty nest.  17 years!  That span of time both seems like forever and also like a blink of an eye.  When I think that next month my husband and I will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary, I realize again how fast time goes.

And so I was left to realize that in the midst of all the pressing needs of mothering small children, I must cling to pieces of myself where I can find them.  While I need to give myself to my children, I also need to take breaks and give myself to me and to my husband.  They really are only with us a short time. I won’t stop being their mom when they are 18.  No switch flips like that. My own parents haven’t stopped being my parents now that I’m a grown-up, but our relationship is vastly different now than it was 30 years ago when I was my daughter’s age.  I think about what it will be like when my babies are grown.  I can’t quite wrap my head around it.  I don’t know exactly what choices they’ll make and how they’ll turn out.  I don’t know how I will feel when my time of really rearing them is complete.  But I do know I will be left with myself and I don’t want to lose her.

It’s very easy to be consumed by motherhood and perhaps it’s completely necessary. However, it’s also quite taxing and leaves little room for much else.  Sometimes I forget that I am more than a mom because I simply don’t have the energy left at the end of the day to be anything else.  I think that’s OK for now, mostly because it just has to be.  I just want to make sure that I don’t completely disappear over these next 17 years.  I will change, I’m sure.  I have already changed and I wouldn’t go back.  I love being a mother.  I love being defined as a mother.  I love the person my children have made me.  I pray and long to be good enough to raise these little ones as they deserve.  I pray for strength to be the best me I can be for them.  They are my world.  But my world is one day going to not be so tight.  My world is one day going to go out on its own.  I don’t want to forget the Stacey I am underneath the mother I am.

I can only smile as I think about my neighbor and her oblivion to what just seeing her out and about 8 p.m. sparked in me.  We don’t know each other well.  I won’t ever share this with her.  That’s OK.  I find myself wondering now whether she has any regrets from her child-rearing days.  I wonder how she was left to define or redefine herself when her children were grown.  Maybe it’s an abrupt change and maybe it’s gradual.  I will see one of these days.  But for now I’m going to keep snatching small pieces of myself here and there amidst the chaos and joy of mothering small children.

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