I’m crying again on the first day of school, but not because my kids are growing up too fast. This time, it’s because they are already grown.
To older moms everywhere, this is for you. Whether your kids are in college, working a job, or are married with a family of their own, we didn’t send our children to school again this year. And we won’t. Again. Ever.
As I wrote in my article School Buses and Helium Balloons, I suffered early from P.E.N.S. (Pre-Empty-Nest-Syndrome) when all three children still lived at home. When they were young enough to play with baby dolls or pretend they were Ninja Turtles, I was already imagining bridal veils and homes of their own, empty bedrooms and an unused swimming pool. The clear vision of them leaving the nest worked like a sedative on me, dulling their loud noises and quieting my own tantrums on days where my productivity was like digging a ditch while someone was secretly filling it in behind me.
I knew that childhood was like a helium balloon slipping out of your fingers—impossible to recapture once gone.
At least I had a map. I was of a generation that actually listened to the BTDT (Been There, Done That) moms, who shared what they’d learned–not to prove anything, but to help a sister out, to navigate us toward the secret passageways on the treasure map of parenting. We welcomed words of wisdom; we didn’t think we had all the answers or that our kids’ uniqueness defied advice. Maybe that’s why we didn’t need a drink at noon (back then); motherhood was a lot of work, but it wasn’t all that surprising or stressful because we’d had master teachers who’d prepared us. And the best advice I received was that the childhood stage would go fast. I didn’t just listen… I took it to heart:
“I’ve tried to slow the pace of these last several years. I deliberately enjoy every Barbie mess, each costly video game, and all the cookie crumbs left on the kitchen counter because I am privy to a secret that moms with grown children were kind enough to share—that these messes, bumps and bruises, loud music, and sticky fingerprints will be over before I know it.”
See? I knew. Oh, how I knew that D-Day was coming (Desertion Day), when this mama bird would look around and realize she was living in a great, big empty nest. And I would say, “Where did they go?”
This is for the moms whose kids have flown the coop.
You would think that at some point I’d stop crying on the first day of school. Especially, says the mental hospital, since my youngest child graduated in 2012 and her two older siblings are married.
That day is coming, I’m guessing. But. It. Isn’t. Today.
Today, I was taken by surprise when I poured my coffee and fired up my laptop. Social media posts signaled that today was the first day of school. Facebook was lively with photos of smiling faces, new shoes, and perfectly polished hair. Memories hit me like a baseball bat to the gut.
My house was quiet. I was home alone.
Suddenly, all those days of wishing I had even five minutes of peace and quiet were here, and I have news for you: They aren’t that great.
When your kids leave home, you’ll suddenly have a lot of quiet time with your brain. Younger moms can’t get five minutes with her, so they imagine her to be this amazing and creative creature who can improve their lives if they could just spend some time with her. But older moms become intimately acquainted with our brain, and let’s face it, your brain’s a bitch. She’s not your friend. Time alone with her is overrated; she’s a self-centered drama queen who, if left of her own devices, will keep you awake at night then use all the newfound time she has with you during the day to toss hand grenade thoughts to obliterate your peace and quiet. She’s that friend who, from a distance, seemed exotic and sophisticated, but after that weekend in Vegas you realized she’s little more than a drunk troublemaker who wears too tight dresses and smacks her gum.
So, there I was, “liking” and “loving” your kids’ photos on Facebook today when my brain stepped in to remind me that those days were over for me. “Oh you think that picture is cute?” my snarky brain laughed. “Those days are long gone, sister! Here, look at this!” She then showed me images of Jordyn walking down the aisle and Allie’s bridal veil billowing near the surf. I had transitioned from soccer cleats and hair bows to wedding dresses and tuxedos. From making soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to figuring out how to cook for two.
From watching my little girl dressing up her cat—to helping my beautiful daughter into her wedding gown.
From spending my days picking up toys and folding tiny socks… to having a clean house with no laundry to do.
From harried and last minute, all-nighter science fair projects… to wine at Wiki’s with my friends.
From crushed Cheerios, McDonald’s wrappers, soccer socks, homework papers, and permission slips littering my mini van… to a sparkling clean luxury car.
From using expendable income on school clothes, travel baseball, and birthday party gifts… to spending it on last minute adventures to New York.
From having three children to love… to having six. From wondering if I’d done a good job, if I’d paid them enough attention, taught them to be kind, given them confidence, guided their faith, propped their self images, instilled values, encouraged their dreams…. to seeing the results with my own eyes.
Hmm, maybe this isn’t so bad.
Mothers at my age are like time travelers. We can still see and feel, smell and hear our children as they were as babies. We can close our eyes and remember how their laughs sounded, remember how their skin felt when we touched them while they slept. And when we open our eyes, all the questions we had as young moms are now answered: Will they be good adults? Will they be happy? Did I do OK? Was I a good mom?
Yes, yes, and then some. Cheers, ladies…. we did it. Time to let the helium balloon fly.