Thursday , September 14, 2017 - 4:30 AM
Many, many years ago, I dropped my youngest son off for his first day at preschool. His older sisters had already been dropped off at their respective schools. As I pulled away from the curb, I looked into my rearview mirror at the empty interior of the car, and with all the windows rolled up, shouted, “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” Had I not been driving, I’m pretty sure I would have fist pumped too.
I forgot that event until I saw a Facebook post the other day from my daughter who videoed herself walking down an aisle of a grocery store. With a kind of shocked, hopeful look in her eyes, she said, “I just dropped both of my kids off at their first day of school. And now I’m shopping by myself. I can just walk down the aisles and get stuff that I need and put in the cart. I’m not finding weird things in my cart. I’m just going quickly through this store. And … I like it.”
She paused, then in a wistful voice added, “Is that OK?”
Oh yes, honey. That is perfectly OK.
To young mothers everywhere experiencing your first year of school-based alone time, may I offer my heartiest congratulations. And assure you that guilt should not be among the jumble of emotions you feel.
It’s understandable we feel guilt about being so giddy in our solitude. After all, no one is more tethered to their work than mothers of young children. It’s a 24/7 job — and there’s a lot of guilt associated with it. Like our reactions when the youngest indicates her disfavor with her lunchtime mac and cheese by tossing it under the table. Or the youngest son feeds the hose into an open window of the SUV and turns it on because he wants a traveling pool. Or the middle son comes home with a note from the teacher that isn’t good news. Or the oldest teen wants to bury herself in her room because the love of her 13-year-old life loves someone else.
At those moments, what mother doesn’t silently wish that she had a job somewhere — anywhere else but here. A job that doesn’t eat her alive, a job that doesn’t feel like she’s being pecked to death by ducks, a job that has moments when she could pause and breathe and eat and even sleep without having to keep one ear and one eye open at all times.
And then what happens? A wave of guilt sweeps through as we realize we just wished we were not mothering this tribe, that we wanted an easier thing to do — say something like coal mining.
But guilt can be useful. It drives us to stay put, to wipe noses and bottoms, dry tears, clean up messes, launder a million loads, prepare a gazillion meals, bandage wounds, hug and hold, listen-listen-listen, discipline and repeat. It fills the temporary gap until the love returns.
So we keep on slogging through. And then comes the magical day when we hand our children over to strangers at school who’ve spent years of their lives preparing to teach them. We walk out the door, open the car door, slide into the seat and sigh. Yeah, a tear might come. But it’s brief. And then we put that car into reverse and head on out into the sunlight, ready to take on new vistas. Like shopping alone at the grocery store. And if we’re really in tune, like my daughter, we don’t just shop — we relish every minute.
So enjoy your shopping excursions. Go visit that décor store you’ve wanted to wander through, the one with all the glass items that your youngest kept trying to launch himself at that one time you tried. Enjoy a late breakfast with friends where you don’t cut up anyone’s pancake but your own. Take on a craft project that requires more than three-minute increments to complete. Shop for a new dress without having to corral your brood in the dressing room and try to stifle their audibly embarrassing questions about your body while you break speed records trying on an outfit. Take a long bath, with bubbles and candles and a good book. And leave the door unlocked.
It’s OK to be happy about this. And it’s OK to not feel guilty that you’re happy about this. You earned this.
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