By Gwen Rockwood, syndicated columnist and mama of 3
This year, when the kids went back to school, I thought about the first time it happened 14 years ago. Our baby was about a year and a half old when I decided that taking him to a half-day Mother’s Day Out program once per week might be good for both of us.
The parenting books said he needed “socialization” with other toddlers, and I knew for sure I needed a chance to go to the bathroom and the grocery store by myself at least once a week. But I didn’t realize how hard it would be to separate until the moment came for me to hand that baby over to the nice ladies at the Mother’s Day Out program and walk out the door. It felt like someone was taking out one of my lungs, expecting me to breathe normally for the next four hours while they hung onto it for me.
Of course, like most parents, I got used to it and so did he. Pretty soon I was happily handing that kid over, tossing the diaper bag at someone and sprinting out the door to a haircut appointment or a luxurious solo trip to Sonic where I could sit and hear myself think. Having that much-needed time to take care of myself made me better able to take care of him and to appreciate the blessing of scooping him up in my arms again.
Fast forward 14 years. Reluctant but resigned, our three kids – ages 15, 13 and 10 – slung their backpacks over their shoulders and headed back to school this week. And once again, I felt those same conflicting emotions I did the first time we separated.
Part of me is happy to be back in a more productive routine, while the other part of me rails against the hustle and bustle of the school year. Part of me is glad they won’t be home all day to raid the pantry and fridge on an hourly basis, and the other part of me will miss seeing them in the kitchen. Part of me is glad they’re out there learning how to navigate the world, and part of me wants to keep them tucked safely under my wing.
That baby I once took to the Mother’s Day Out program is now taller than me, has huge man-feet, needs to shave more often than he wants to, and can operate a motor vehicle. In another five months, he’ll be able to drive himself to school – which, once again, makes me feel like I can’t breathe properly because it scares me so much.
The middle kid is now 13, is nearly as big as his older brother, and has discovered that sarcasm and eye-rolling is his favorite way to communicate. And the baby of the family, who is now proudly sporting a double-digit age, is all legs and arms and opinions. She is learning to rock-climb and to sew, and she is so much more interesting than I ever was at that young age.
Every time they go back to school, I’m painfully aware that we’re one year closer to the day they leave me for good – when they take their toothbrush to college and don’t come back for months at a time.
If I was an actress and was in a scene where I needed to cry, I could do it so easily. Because when I think about the kids leaving for college one day, I can go from normal to weepy in a matter of seconds. My older mom friends tell me I’ll get through it and that it’ll be good for both of us. But right now, it feels like it would be nothing but scary and sad.
So, I pack up that problem into a box marked “future” and vow not to think about it just yet. For now, I’ve got a few more school years to watch unfold as the kids become the people they’re meant to be. I’ve got a few more summers to enjoy while they eat record amounts of groceries and sleep until noon. I’ve got more time – and time is a blessing.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.