It was a week of firsts for our family. Jada had her first day of preschool and on Saturday she went to her first “friend’s” birthday party. Twila’s first soccer practice happened two days after her first day of Kindergarten and two days before her first soccer game. Her first non-school, play date was with the daughter of her very first piano instructor who gave her, her first lesson this week. This morning after both girls had been shuttled to their respective schools (Twila by a neighbor who offered us Twila’s very first carpool experience), I thought about all these firsts over coffee with myself as I sat alone in a quiet house for the first time in six years.
Naturally, I filled the time with house work, like I promised myself I wouldn’t do. So many writing projects were put off to let the busyness and simultaneous laziness of summer rule. I justified my long holiday from writing by saying: I will write in the fall when structure returns; this is the time for our family to be a family, for me to be a mom to my rapidly growing daughters. And I did. We did. We summered it up. We went for long walks with our puppy and played for hours outside breaking only for picnic lunches. Some days I delivered sandwiches up to the tree house on Twila and Jada’s pulley and went back to the dock where I sat in the sun and read.
We languished in the shade during the brutally hot July weeks and went for paddle boat rides in the cool breaks August afforded. During big, booming summer rains we put on our rain jackets and raced through the yard, splashing in puddles, Django barking along behind us out of excitement mingled with panic.
I read more than I wrote, devouring several books recommended by my Waldorf welcoming committee. I also dipped into some old favorite fiction novels so I wouldn’t forget where my passions lie and to break up the rather academic literature I was wading through. It was a relaxing summer with minimal conflict and stress. And for a stay at home mom, that is just about the whole thing.
My one beef with summer is that the sun is relentlessly present. Bright and shining through our windows even before this early riser could get up. I kept dragging myself from bed earlier and earlier to get a few minutes of predawn peace only to find that the earlier I got up, the earlier the sun seemed to rise. And the earlier the sun rose, the earlier my daughters came sauntering down the hall, cheeks flushed, hair messy and fluffy, like semi-conscious mad scientists, my smallest tee-shirts covering their knees like hospital gowns. As vexing was the impossibility of getting even the smallest amount of time alone, their morning presence never has ceased to capture my heart and make me smile, albeit shaking my head, as I resignedly stowed my morning pages book back in the drawer and pulled whatever sleepy child had materialized onto my lap to cuddle the bed warmth from her.
And night was no better. The bedtime routine became a game of “hide-the-sun-from-the-kids” as my husband and I worked as a team to close every shade, blind, curtain and door to insulate them from the blaring sun that blazed as bright as noon even at eight thirty at night.
I remember loving the long summer days in my twenties. It seemed an excuse to stay up later, drink more, and sleep less. I seemed to need less sleep in the summer. It was the season to be awake and alive. But unfortunately young children feel that same invitation even though a parent’s time to be awake and alive is after the children go to bed. The paradox of parenting in the summer.
So we threw blankets over their shades and lit candles and ran the noise machine to muffle the sound of birds chirping and lawn mowers mowing and even audacious children who were still playing loudly at the beach across the lake. And sometimes, sometimes they would get to sleep before nine and Ryan and I would high-five silently outside their door and sneak down the creaky hall and bring a glass of wine out onto the deck overlooking our lake and sigh, because we had cheated the system somehow: gotten our energized children to bed while the sun was still up (at least a little) while we ourselves were still awake to enjoy it.
We’d watch the sun set and talk about, well, our children of course because some kind of magic spell happens when they fall asleep that makes us see all of their finest qualities and feel overwhelmed with gratitude for what amazing children we’ve been blessed with. We’d chastise ourselves good-naturedly about how we shouldn’t have gotten frustrated about that spilled sauce at the table or raised our voices in the car—they were just having fun, after all. It’s a blessing that children sleep because that is when parents charge their batteries even more than the children who are sleeping.
It was a peaceful summer of joy and fun and calm. But as summer wound down I welcomed the cool of fall and expected the cool down of activity that normally comes with it. But it was different this year. This year Twila is school aged and she has “stuff.” Maybe it was too calm of a summer and we had nowhere to go but up. Whatever the cause, this fall feels busy already.
Twila has activities to get to, school every day and (even with minimal scheduling) she has a social life and a calendar to adhere to. I find myself this week mentally slapping my cheeks to make sure I don’t miss anything vital. But with the snap to attention I have also gotten focused again on my own personal goals.
I had goals outside of my children at one point and as I come out of the haze of mothering babies as my daughters both grow into fuller and fuller time school, I realize I might want to get back on the path to those goals.
Maybe mothering infants is like the poppy field in The Wizard of Oz. It takes you off the track you were once so clearly on, wallops you with a haze like no other, distracts you with such a beautiful, blissful high that you think you might never need come out of it. But come out of it you will. Whether on your own terms or your children’s you cannot live in that poppy field forever. They grow up and begin to need you less and less, and less until you either find your own life or find yourself feeding on theirs.
As Sandy, the mother of my birthdaughter, Nicole, (the baby who I held in my arms yesterday who claims to be turning thirteen this month) said to me once, “You have to have your own life or suddenly you’re fifty and you’re trying to figure out who you are outside of them.”
My own mother, so dedicated to us for so, so many years is still finding herself.
Maybe it’s the example of these wise women, or maybe it was the reality shock of dropping my youngest daughter at preschool, but something about this fall has triggered my senses, begun to wake me up from the poppy field delirium of lactation and pregnancy and diaper changing and nighttime mothering. With my daughters starting school, I am standing up, pulling myself out of the dewy grass, stepping back onto the path I set out on more than ten years ago to be an educator and a writer.
As I step back onto my own path, I hold this image in my mind of setting my growing girls down on their own feet and taking their hands to walk side by side, seeking out our own destinations like traveling companions, together but separately.