Every morning when I wake up, I lie in bed and listen to the radio for a few minutes. I am a morning layabout, suddenly, even if it’s just for long enough to hear the news snippets and the day’s weather. Below me, I hear the muffled sounds of my two daughters getting ready for their day. They’ve been up longer than I have.
This year’s mornings, I find I am no longer a lunch-maker, a breakfast-nagger, a pill-preparer, or even a walk-you-to-school mother of young children. This year, my daughters do all of that themselves.
Much like in the early years of my motherhood, when I tiptoed around my own instincts to see what worked and what didn’t, I am auditioning my moments of parenting with my tween and teen daughters. Particularly with my little one — no longer quite as little — I am working on the line between playful teasing and hurtful taunting; on the right time to help her find solutions to her worries and the right time to listen and offer no advice at all.
This year, I am no longer always funny. I am no longer the very best comfort available at all times. I am no longer even available at all times. My girls are gone sometimes for longer days than I am, and I find myself sitting aimlessly at my kitchen counter, conditioned to being home at the end of the school day even when my schoolchildren are at rehearsals, clubs, or friends’ houses.
I need time to get in practice with this new way of being a mom.
It seems that all parents have moments when they suddenly realize that their children aren’t little anymore. I certainly had that regularly with my older daughter — it seemed like I’d tucked a little girl into bed at night and a womanly shape walked down the stairs in the morning. I lurched from realization to realization with her: she could make her own lunch, she could walk home from school alone, she could complete her homework without my nagging. I held her tight and let her squirming self go many times but, eventually, I settled into the pattern of observation and release that seems the provenance of so many parents of teenagers.
Along the way, I told myself the story that it would be much easier with her little sister. After all, I’d have gone through it before.
The reality is that, as my younger daughter creeps toward 12, it’s different for a wide variety of reasons I can’t seem to untangle no matter how I try. She’s a different child not just because all children are unique. Her first nine years were so fraught with medical drama that I have to admit that I’m already starting at a disadvantage. The real version of her is only a few years old — the version of her personality unaltered by malnutrition, uninterrupted by hospital visits, unmarred by my own constant armchair medical analysis. Our real relationship is toddler-aged. In so many ways, we’re just learning each other.
There are some areas of parenting her that do benefit from the practice of parenting her older sister. I know the mood swings — even when expressed differently in each daughter — will subside. I know the practicalities of puberty will show themselves in ebbs and flows. I know when to suggest a new facial cleanser or deodorant or bra. These are the things that experience gives me.
What I struggle to do has more to do with years of useless knowledge and expectation that crowd sections of my brain. I do not have to obsessively feed her anymore. I do not have to accompany her through days at the hospital, walk into operating rooms with her, or keep notes on her health. I’m now just a regular mom — not the mom of a sick kid, not the mom with extra challenges. I’m just a mom. What is required of all moms is what is required of me.
Sometimes I feel guilty — I know what that world is like, and know that millions of mothers still live there — and struggle to imagine what I should be doing with my guilt.
Other times, my little girl with her poet’s soul and her curious, empathetic nature, comes to dance with me in the kitchen when we play music. She rests her head on my chest and — though I take a moment, just a moment, to revel in the height she’s found — I blissfully sink into the deep mindfulness of how powerful this is. She’s not going to volunteer her body against me fully like this forever, and even if she’s always this affectionate, someday she’ll leave, and I will mark the spots on the floor of the kitchen where we danced together.
I am not the same mother I was three years ago, a year ago, ten minutes ago. And I’ll never be this mother again.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post. This week’s sentence is “All the things I am not…” Our sentence thinker-upper is Lisa of The Golden Spoons who is co-hosting with the fantastic Kristi of Finding Ninee.