When you have a baby, they send you home with formula and diapers. They give you instructions on caring for the umbilical cord and setting up your first appointment with the pediatrician. Good nurses will give you tips on feeding schedules, getting the baby use to different noises and different sleeping arrangements. They will teach you how to swaddle the baby up into a tight cocoon to remind them of your womb. So many instructions for this tiny new person. Yet, don’t they explain to new moms that from the moment they gave birth they’ve agreed to a life of wearing their heart on the outside of their body. That from here on out their tear ducts will be on overdrive. Why don’t they explain that every heartbreak their child endures, they will feel as if it’s their own? And why don’t they explain that at some point motherhood means reaching the pivotal fork in the road? A place where they separate from their child and are no longer needed in the same capacity?
This week was one of those times when planets align and wreak havoc on my emotions. A friend sent me a picture of our kids when they were little. That same day, I printed out the school calendar for the upcoming year and saw the date of Noah’s graduation staring at me in black and white. No more denying it’s coming; cue the tears. The next day I took him for his senior pictures and couldn’t watch for fear of the water works returning. The very next morning I glanced at Tristan eating breakfast and it hit me like a ton of bricks: he looks like a man! No trace of teenager left.
I don’t know where the time has gone, but suddenly I feel like I’ve been robbed. I want a redo! I want to go back in time and relive their childhoods again. I want chubby fingers holding my hand. I want to put Band-Aids on skinned knees. I want sloppy sticky kisses. I want hugs from arms that barely reach around my neck. I want to hear giggles as they hide in places they think I can’t see them. I want to have dance parties where we jump off the couch and sing on the top of our lungs. I want to cuddle while watching Disney movies. I want to remember their scent that was a mixture of equal parts sweat, dirt, and sweetness.
I want time to stop, but it can’t and that makes my heart physically ache.
As parents we strive to help our children grow into responsible, respectable, empathetic, strong, compassionate adults. We want to see their hopes and dreams come true more than anything we could ever wish for ourselves. To see them grow up and be truly happy is our goal from conception. If we did our job right, they’ll be secure leaving the nest. Going out into the world to start the next phase of their lives will be scary, yes, but exciting. It will be something they look forward to. It will be a time when we get our lives back and begin to make ourselves a priority again. But what if we don’t want to? What if we don’t know how? What if it hurts too much to think of waking up each day in a house where we don’t see their faces?
Knowing we won’t get a call or text everyday is just as conflicting. It means they’re living! They’re studying, they’re working, their spending time with people who have become important in their lives. But, those people may be people we’ve never met. The things they’re doing will be memories we’re never a part of. The arms bringing them comfort won’t be ours. How do we reconcile that? How do we acknowledge that we want all of that and more for our children as they become adults, when there is secretly a part of our heart that doesn’t? When we reach that fork in the road, how do we allow our children to go one way while we go the other?
That fork in the road is like a tug of war. On one side is Team Brain. That side pulls and pull and pulls knowing with each tug our children move further into their future. Further into the world. Further away from us. Team Brain knows this is the way it’s supposed to be. Our relationship with our children will evolve into a friendship of sorts. There will be people who are more important than us. Our kids might move to the other side of the country or the other side of the world, but these things happen because we’ve taught them how to stand on their own two feet. Team Heart is on the other side of the rope and they’re struggling. They’re actually stronger than Team Brain because Team Heart has been broken over and over and over. They’ve been broken and put back together and have all the scars to prove it. But as strong as Team Heart is, it can never win the tug of war. Life doesn’t work that way. Instead Team Heart gets shredded by the rope. They’re hands are blistered and beaten; rubbed raw and aching. The pain is intense and there is nothing they can do but put bandages on the wounds, plaster on a smile, and wait for the scars to form.
So why do we moms do it?
We give of ourselves selflessly in probably the most unappreciated job there is. Our entire worlds revolve around these little humans that grow to be bigger than us in most cases. Every decision we make somehow, even if subconsciously, involves out children. When we go grocery shopping we buy their favorites, even if it means there’s no room in the cart for ours. We’ll wear fashions from five years ago in order to make sure they have clothes that fit fashionably today. When we hear a song, see a movie, or watch TV we wonder if they would like what we’re hearing or seeing. We’ll struggle to make ends meet in order to pay for sports, dance, gymnastics or whatever hobbies bring a smile to their faces. We sink every ounce of energy we can muster into helping them achieve their dreams while ours become nothing more than a memory. All the while; never complaining. We hide our tears. We push our dreams aside. We get up early. We go to bed late. We do whatever we have to do because we’re moms.
We’ve loved them since the moment we knew they existed. Whether that was a wave of morning sickness or a little plus sign on a pregnancy test. Our bodies house them and in that time I think our hearts grow attached in some capacity. Some kind of physical connection happens that we can’t see that enables us to have a sixth sense when it comes to our children. We know when something good is happening and often we sense when they’re hurting or struggling even before they tell us. We know what’s best for them, even if they don’t want to hear it. We know how they are going to react to life’s ups and downs before they do. We hurt when they hurt. And as they pull away we ache to hold on.
At this point in my life I find myself thinking about my mother and my mother in law. How do they feel not seeing their children and grandchildren each day? Knowing they’re missing out on so much. Do they hurt each time they visit and leave? Deep down I know the answer. I know this never goes away. I know as a mom I’ve moved out of the center of my children’s worlds and into a place where I get to live off the crumbs they feed me. I know this ache is permanent. I know a year from now when we leave Noah at college it will be even worse. I know that the pride I do and will feel, doesn’t make it stop.
But I have hope! I look at all the women I know who have already walked this path and I see that they’ve survived. I’ve witnessed a lot of their tears and heartache as their children have moved on. I’ve seen the conflict on their faces as their brains and hearts play tug of war. What I don’t see is them sucking their thumbs while rocking in a corner. They’re hurting, but they’re smiling like they always do. They’re aching, but they’re living like they’ve done for years. They miss their babies, but they forge friendships with the adults taking their place. They soldier on like the warriors they are. Team Brain wins and Team Heart endures another scar.
As I go into this next year of big changes, I ‘mm apprehensive of losing this smiling face in my daily life but I’m excited for all that lies ahead for him. As I watch Tristan become more independent I remember how far he’s come even if I feel needed less. I cry behind closed doors. I cry in the shower. I cry in the car. Then I wipe my tears, take a deep breath, let the new scar start to form and keep moving forward because I am a mother and that’s what we do!