Many years ago, when my children were younger, there was a time when I had two children in elementary school, one in junior high, and one in a high school. And then an infant was added to the mix. Now, I know families come in all sizes; some have certainly had more children to care for than I did, and some have had less. But since this is my blog, I only have my own experience to write about.
During the majority of years that I was raising children, I was also writing one novel after another. Even though I “worked” at home, I still had more than a full-time job on top of mothering and being in charge of a household. And I must declare that I still “worked” all those years, even though it took me many years to get published and actually receive income from my efforts.
But the point is this: children. They’re great, aren’t they? And they are challenging! It’s true what they say, that being a parent is absolutely the most fulfilling thing you can do in this life, and absolutely the most difficult. I remember clearly a point in my life, as summer vacation was drawing to a close, that I was so overwhelmed by school preparations that I could hardly see straight. Getting multiple children ready for school with clothes, supplies, adjusting bedtimes, etc.—and then there’s the actual registration that’s necessary for children in the upper grades—was indeed overwhelming. And then I considered that with school starting there was always a trade off. At the time with a houseful of children—and often their friends—summer was noisy and chaotic, which made it difficult to get much writing done. Some of my children had difficulty getting along with each other, particularly during different stages. Therefore I looked forward to the end of summer vacation and returning to a more structured schedule and having them out of the house for some ours every day. But the trade off was that having children in school means homework, projects, parent-teacher conferences, meetings about extracurricular activities, etc. etc., not to mention the more personal matters that come up of their hurt feelings or social dramas that came into play.
At one point it occurred to me that for each child I had brought into the world, there were fourteen school years. Preschool, kindergarten, and twelve grades in order to achieve high school graduation. Multiply fourteen school years with five children and that’s seventy school years—many of them occurring simultaneously of course. My children are spread out in years, so the oldest had barely finished his junior year in high school when the youngest was born. The youngest is now at exactly that same stage, and the transitions of life amaze me and at times can feel a little alarming.
Now, coming to the present, my baby girl, my youngest child, is about to begin her senior year of high school. Of those seventy school years I once calculated that I had to get through, I’m now down to one left. One. To say I have mixed emotions is an understatement. The thought of being done with getting my children through school—at least the schooling that takes place prior to their becoming adults and mostly (supposedly) forging ahead from that point on their own.
As I send my little girl out the door for her first day of school, knowing that it will be an extremely busy school year given all of the many school-related things she’s involved in, I feel myself stepping over a threshold that is the beginning of the end. I realistically expect to actually have a chance to spend time with my daughter a little bit on Sundays and during Christmas break. She’s a very busy girl who is engaged in doing very good things. I’m proud of her and from the sidelines I observe her life like a merry-go-round that keeps zooming past me while I wave at her as she glides by, offering a smile and words of encouragement. By the time this school year ends, she will technically be an adult, and a whole new season of life will officially be upon me as a mother.
I’m not one of those mothers that is heart broken over the prospect of an empty nest. I’ve been raising kids for nearly thirty-five years and it’s been an exhausting and often traumatic endeavor. I like having my kids be adults, able to care for themselves and move forward with their own lives. Still, this is a big step with a lot of change on the horizon. I’ve been the mother of adult children long enough to know that mothering never ends. It’s typical to not hear from my children for a long time, and then they need advice, or love, or encouragement, or money, or a place to live temporarily, and they pop up. I love my children dearly—and their spouses, and those beautiful grandchildren—and I strive to offer them unconditional love always, support and encouragement when needed, and never to enable them. I know they need to have their own journey and work their way through as adults. But as my baby girl is now on the verge of adulthood, I find myself struggling somewhat with the transition. I’ve certainly paid my dues as a mother, and I look forward to a time when I will be free of the complications of being responsible for a minor child. But a mother never stops loving their children, and a mother of adult children knows well enough that you never cease to be concerned and often caught up in challenges when they occur.
It’s been a crazy, marvelous, exhausting, magnificent, overwhelming, exquisite journey of raising five children and observing them as they need me less and less. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. They start out needing you for everything, and they go forward needing you for nothing (most of the time) and they generally have absolutely no idea how much you’ve given, and loved, and sacrificed for their best interests.
So, here’s to moving forward. Sixty-nine school years down, one to go. And it’s going to be a wild year! But not to worry, with college and a mission in my daughter’s sights, it will still be a good, long while before I can really step out of the active mother role and just sit back in my rocking chair and take it easy. Oh, gosh! What a journey!