In a recent letter to "Dear Abby," a woman who'd been a mom for more than two decades made the mistake of looking ahead a couple of years, beyond the time when she figured her kids would likely move on.
What she saw scared her.
"I'm having a hard time imagining life without them," she wrote. "How can I get past the fear of not being needed or wanted anymore?"
After reading that, some moms are probably scratching their heads and thinking, "Run, lady!"
Time without kids, time without the 24/7 demands, time to think and breathe and relax and go to the bathroom alone -- isn't that what moms long for?
Well, yeah, in a sort of "grass is greener" way.
But on the other side of the fence -- when the kids are actually gone -- has its own set of challenges, at least for a while.
The toughest thing to face when they leave is losing your name. You've been "Mom" forever, or so it seems. You hear that name all day long, and your life is spent responding to it.
"Mom, can you tie my shoe?" "Mom, he's not playing fair." "Mom, she's looking at me." "Mom, I hate this sandwich." "Mom, I'm hungry." "Mom, I'm tired." "Mom, I'm bored." "Mom, I need a drink." "Mom, I need a ride." "Mom, have you seen my (insert anything here)?" "Mom, I need new cleats." "Mom, why does my hair have to be so ugly?" "Mom, do you know where I put the car keys?" "Mom, I met this really nice guy."
The name "Mom" means you're the sheriff, judge, and jury of just about everything that happens in your world -- and theirs.
With the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon, and the finesse of Goliath you try to lead the pack, and sometimes cringe at how badly you're doing. You're so scattered and worn out that you barely notice how fast they're growing up. You blink and suddenly you're herding adults.
Then one day they go (yeah, it happens that fast) and with them goes your name. You have that other name, the one your parents gave you. But sometimes days or even weeks have gone by and no one called you that name. It's so unused that you probably wouldn't have responded to it any way.
But now your Mom name has gone silent too. You wonder who you are. Why you're here. What you're going to do now.
It's a lonely, weirdly calm time. From the outside looking in, your status looks enviable to those who haven't yet joined you. You have (ta-da!) freedom. You can just pick up the car keys and head out the door without putting coats on four wriggly kids. You can sit at a restaurant and eat your food without cutting someone else's into bite-sized pieces. You can go to bed when you want, get up when you want, and choose to eat what you want, even if it isn't healthy.
But strangely, something is crushingly missing. You find yourself longing to hear those three little words, "Mom, I need ... "
And just when you wonder how you'll stand it, you hear it again: "Mom ... ?"
Remember those kids who left you? Well, they've been gone for a while, spreading their wings and feeling the rush of the wind and the euphoria of freedom. But eventually they hit turbulence, and windstorms, and thunderclouds ... meaning they have kids of their own. They're only starting to figure out how to build their own haven -- but they know one place where they can go to be safe and loved. And fed.
So you come full circle, back to being needed and wanted in ways you never dreamed. With the added generation, things become more complicated. But you're wiser now because, if nothing else, you've been around the longest. And with a few lumps of their own, your kids are more willing to listen and believe you.
That lady who wrote to "Dear Abby"? She'll be OK. She should enjoy her short-lived freedom. She thinks she was needed and wanted before. But now she's going to find out what that really means.
D. Louise Brown can be contacted at email@example.com.