It really does go by quickly
When you are in the middle of the muddle (five kids under 9, all under foot), it doesn’t seem possible that you will one day emerge as a woman who will drive to a supermarket alone, buy herself a cafe latte, and stroll through the aisles putting juice and cookies in the cart—items never considered when seven people would devour them in fifteen minutes flat.
There are years where sleep is optional and comes in snatches between bed-wettings and breast feeding, uncomfortable belly bumps and night terrors. Sometimes insomnia strikes on the one night everyone sleeps through. Ah the cruelty. Ah the endless sleeplessness.
You live with an enormous amount of pressure to make it all work:
- The stuffed bedrooms of two and three children sharing a space not big enough for one let alone two or three
- The disarray of shoes with matches and mismatches and no time to sort out if you have pairs or not
- The endless trade of strep throat cultures from toothbrush to toothbrush all winter long
- The hotel-stays with children sprawled all over the floor to save precious dollars
- The attempt to be at all soccer, lacrosse, baseball, and basketball games for multiple children with one car and a husband working on Saturday mornings
- All ballet, band, Shakespeare, theater, vintage dance, and guard rehearsals and performances, sometimes on the same nights
- All art and science fairs
- All co-op and homeschool support group meetings (while finding childcare)
- Saving money from grocery budgets or making trades for tutoring or online classes
- Working part time with a newborn in your arms
- Being so sick yet homeschooling anyway
- Moving across the country in the middle of the school year and praying your children won’t be behind at the end of it
- Unknotting tangled hair through tears
- Giving haircuts to boys without any training
- Living with a kitchen the size of a postage stamp
- Never updating furniture, hairstyles, or wardrobes for years at a time…
You do it with energy and optimism (most of the time), right in the middle of your marital challenges, work pressures, and postpartum depression.
Your kids keep growing up despite your best and worst efforts.
Suddenly, one of them…goes! Right out the door and you’re packing his room into cardboard boxes…and the fact that you can see the floor for the first time in four years is cold comfort, while you hug this man-child and worry about him in new ways and he leaves, unaware of the big hole he leaves behind in the fabric of this family.
Then the next one: bam! She picks her duvet and laptop covers, drives 100 miles, and never returns…not really ever in the same way.
At the same rate they were born, they leave. Every two years like clockwork—while you try to stay present to the ones still home, still needing all that devoted attention. But a piece of you moves out each time the next one packs a box and finds a new bed. You suffer a little even as you gain old “pre-children” liberties long forgotten.
One day, when you least expect it (only you have expected it for 20+ years), you look up and know (really know) that you are at the end of this long journey called “stay-at-home parenting.” It happens when the last one is still at home, but receives her acceptance to college. It happens when your first one graduates from college. It happens when one of your children marries. It happens whether you want it to or not.
There’s no turning back the clock and all the hard things (the years that felt unending and tiring and overwhelming and difficult) are finished. Just. Like. That. What remains is this air-from-your-lungs-stealing awareness that you can never go back.
But oh how the good memories take over! Like a flood! Suddenly it’s as though your children were the most amazing people ever…because they were (and are), all along. You knew it! That’s why you stayed home with them. Those memories are warm comfort. They are the ones that matter. The long years seem incredibly brief in that light. Part of you wants those years back (oh the insanity!).
When you get to the end of your “small children under foot rope,” hold on. Do the best you can in that moment and remind yourself that there will be a day you will wish yourself back to this very moment, missing the immediacy of your family and their needs. The end will come suddenly, with finality. Then you will know what all these little moments really mean. They are the moments of your life—what you grew up to be and do (among other things, but maybe none so important as this thing—this ‘loving your children’ thing). Your life, written in your all-day-long shared experiences with your children. How lucky we are!
I wish you strength for the journey so you will know the joy of the memories in days ahead.
I’m nearly to the end of my journey. How I’ve loved it.
Cross-posted on facebook.