Motherhood keeps surprising me. I just relaxed into the routine of summer with kids home full-time lolly gaggin’ around the house and whining bored. I just settled into morning snuggles and afternoon swims, grilled dinners on paper plates after the sun sets to our backs. Now it’s over. And this turning of the seasons from green grass to golden leaves always stings me just a bit. Why? It’s more than just summer being ended or school beginning; a whole season has packed up and left me. We’ve phased in seasons from summer to fall, but as a family, from babies to big boys. And this mama stares change in the face again, to find her way into a new season, to swim the current of motherhood’s phasing.
Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.
It’s been a long time since I was my own, since I wasn’t wrapping myself around the dreams and needs of another. Has it been seventeen years now? But it was long before my wedding day that this wrapping began. I gave so easily to love, pliable and self-sacrificing in my youth. I gave without counting, as if there would be no cost. But wrapping meant unwrapping all of me, phasing from daughter and child to woman and wife. I relinquished one identity, one head of household, and embraced all that my new name represented, all that would now be expected. I phased out of the old way, identity, roles.
My life has become a set of phases:
daughter to wife,
sick to healthy,
pregnant to bereaved,
bereaved mother of a rainbow baby,
pregnant with a terminal baby,
half-time mom to a kindergartener and a preschooler,
and now, a before- and after-school mom.
That list of words looks ridiculously trite: a litany of simple nouns and adjectives. But every word of every line completely transformed my life. Every word represents hours and weeks and years of changing: my constant, rapid shedding of one way and blind, deliberate running–naked and vulnerable–into a new form of myself. Every word required a new struggle, a new prayer, a new rhythm.
Every new phase felt like it would go on forever. The long nights would never end; the worry would never cease. And then, the finale of it all slipped by me in a blink.
After changing the boys’ diapers, one after the other for four solid years, our Miracle potty-trained himself completely in one day. Box of diapers sat, collecting dust, in the corner of his room. We tucked brothers into bunk-beds and packed the crib away. They giggled in delight as they snuggled into their brothers’ room, and we marveled at their little forms fast asleep in such big beds. Just like that, the baby phase ended.
I told everyone how excited I was to be done with the baby phase. Still, every so often when I stood in the garage, nose in the freezer, I turned to see the skeleton of their crib waiting for a more permanent spot in the attic. As a familiar longing for just one more baby would rise up in my throat, I recalled all of the late night, tearful talks with Jack and all the reasons why Samuel is our last. My eyes filled; the baby phase really was finished.
My heart swelled with sadness, wondering how I would survive all of these phases, this battered mother’s heart that loves to bruising. I gasped at the length of these hard years of lugging and planning around naps and freezing and defrosting baggies of breast milk. Suddenly, my babies walked on their own insistence and ate with forks and told me when they needed to go to the potty. I was left speechless.
Breathe in, breathe out. And the phasing turns again.
Unpack this phase, and barrel into the next.
The next: a school full of strangers, and when do I drop off a kindergartener when school starts at 8:45? And is my three-year-old in too much preschool or not enough? And how is it that as they begin new phases of their lives, so must I? How do I become room-mom and field-trip-mom and make-t-shirts-with-one-hundred-things-on-them-for-the-100th-day-of-school-mom? They did not cover those topics in college.
This is what they don’t tell you when you’re swollen and eating cake at your baby shower: the phasing doesn’t end.
We as mothers forever change, adapt, fix our schedules as our children change. What they need, we become.
Does this humble anyone else? Is it a bit difficult to swallow this truth? It comes to me in waves, this phasing. It comes to me high in the chest, like panic.
I used to wake in the middle of the night panicked over Samuel starting preschool. This is not the midnight panic as we waited for his open heart surgery, or the next doctor’s appointment, or the panic of hearing him coughing in the middle of the night as my heart thumped full of adrenaline at the mere possibility that a simple cold might land him in the hospital. I had to remind myself: this is normal mom panic.
I should be getting used to this panic: the tidal in and out of phasing. I should be getting used to this drop in my gut, the same as the big down on a rollercoaster ride.
And now, I drop them off at the front doors of their elementary school. I drive away, with an entire day to fill without them. Without them? How is there life without them, when my whole life has been dancing around them these past years? How do I shrink back down into myself, when I have spent the last years growing around them?
Truth is, I don’t think I can shrink. I think I’m forever stretched, always reaching . . . phasing.
Loving these men of mine into manhood, into death and life and out of hospitals and cribs and into schools has phased me in and out of identities and body sizes and sleep schedules and hormone levels. Loving these men of mine continues to require my own adaptation each time they transform. And it is humbling to admit today that I am defined by their journeys, that my life is framed by who they are.
My family was my choice so long ago, and it is still my choice today. Even if there is less for me, even if it means I must now unpack this phase of swaddles and lullabies, wipe away tears after I’ve walked them up to their classrooms, and find a way to fill my days after they leave them so empty. And even as I sit in an empty car and grieve the end of this me, this identity, I have lived enough phases to know there will be new-found joy in the next.
So I breathe in, and I breathe out. And I wait for the new phase to begin.
There are far, far better things ahead than anything we leave behind.
Bless you in your phasing, Mama.