Friday, November 8, 2013

The Me on the Shelf

“I feel like I put myself in a box on a shelf for 16 years and now I’ve just taken it down and opened it again.” I may be the writer but my husband said it perfectly. I’d been having this odd feeling similar to when I went away to college or moved in to my own apartment the first time. This feeling of expansiveness, as if anything is possible.

Lately many mornings when I run, I’m conscious of an overwhelming feeling of transition. I thought it wouldn’t happen until my last kid left for college. This year my youngest entered sixth grade. He doesn’t need my assistance getting ready for school so my mornings are no longer consumed by finding shoes, tying laces, packing lunches or buttering anyone’s toast but my own.

Other than chauffeuring, laundry, and a few meal services, my kids operate very much in their own worlds now. My oldest is on the brink of getting his driver’s license, so I will be out of one of those jobs very soon. I try to pull together dinner a few times a week, but with practice, rehearsals, meetings, and games, my kids can’t always make it. They are busy. I’ve become more of a spectator than a player in their lives. Sure, they still need to be reminded to do their chores (now much more than when they were younger and more compliant), but they rarely need my help with homework, hobbies, or their social lives. They got it, Mom. Thanks for the offer. It is usually best if I just stay quiet.

Suddenly blocks of time have opened up for me to play in the garden or cook in the kitchen. I’ve been riding my horses and even playing my guitar. On the weekends, my husband and I can go out for a bike ride or to dinner without a thought for a babysitter or a bedtime.

Knee deep on the front lines of parenting toddlers, elementary schoolers and especially infants, I thought I’d never get my life back. I sadly said goodbye to my free time with only a whiff of resentment. I loved being with my kids. I did. But I missed me sometimes. I carved out an evening or even a weekend now and then, and I claimed my running hour every morning, but I knew my priorities lay with my children. Everything else took a back seat, which is the way it should be. You should never sign up to be a parent if you don’t understand that. I asked a young, newly married friend whether he planned to have kids. “Nah, I’m too selfish,” he replied. Smart man, I thought.

Part of me panics at the idea that I’m almost finished parenting. The finish line appeared so suddenly. Yes, I know that you never stop being a parent, but there is a point where you are no longer as actively involved in the physical labor of parenting. Sure, I know there’s plenty of moments of parental duress to come as we enter the driving and dating years. But for now, I’m enjoying these wide open spaces in my life. I’m reveling in taking myself off the shelf.

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