Yesterday was the first day of school for both of my kids. Ace in 2nd grade. Iris in Kindergarten. I’ve been wrestling with all kinds of feelings about this milestone. For months I’ve been taking stock. I’ve been marking lasts.
The day Iris was born I lay in that skinny hospital bed with her on my chest. And I did some life math. How old would I be when both my kids go off to school? I’ll be 42. And here I am, 42. 42 was a good joke at 16 years old. A fiction. At 20, it was still an impossibility that would never find me. I didn’t know my children’s faces then. Even with Iris as a newborn in my arms that day in the hospital it didn’t seem relevant. It wasn’t relevant. I had a 3 year old and a newborn. Potty training and clean diapers with a wish to write again some day was as far as I could see.
Time talks slowly, but her hands move fast. It’s a magic trick. I’m often dull and miss the secret.
In my memory I treasured all the times in the rocking glider with them. I think I said a prayer of gratitude every time I nursed them. Nursing was the clearest communication I’ve ever had with another person that didn’t require words. Or a thousand bath-time moments, sweet music of water and washing. Dusk is a lavender hue in which I soften my children’s legs and arms with lotion. Pull on their jammies. Breathe a sigh. My mothering failures of high noon recede. God in the last light on the lawn. Rub my face. Poor wine. Right in the square middle of life. The thick of it, it was.
And now the truth is, I am ready for this new stage. I cried about it to God in bed the other night. I felt sorry that I didn’t want little children underfoot anymore. It felt like a confession He already knew of and just wanted to hear me say aloud so that he could attend to my heart.
The day before my kids went to school, I called my mom. I love it when she has a story that I’ve never heard before. Little bits of mystery in every woman. She said, “When we lived in Rochester, New York, Allison went to Kindergarten, which of course meant all four of you kids were in school. Then she laughed at the memory, “I’ll never forget how good it felt that first day of school. On that first day, after I dropped you kids off, I went home, packed a lunch for myself and then rode my bike all the way down to the lake. And I sat there on some big boulders and ate my lunch and looked out at the water. It felt so good to sit there by myself.” Mom laughed as she told me, “And it felt like such a big deal to have gotten you all to that point. I felt like someone should give me a trophy!“
I cried a little when I imagined it. My mom, her maroon Schwinn bike with basket propped on its kickstand by the rocks. Mom’s black hair pulled up in a bouncy ponytail. Mom pulling out a turkey sandwich and chips to eat. Breathing a big sigh. Sunglasses on, looking out at the already chilly water, autumn in upstate New York.
I was in 4th grade. I didn’t know Mom was at the beach that day. I didn’t know what a Mom needs. How could I? I didn’t know a mom has a complete inner life of her own apart from her children. A mother’s lines don’t intertwine with her children’s, they run parallel. And that’s a good thing.
I like knowing that my young mom needed to enter a new stage of life, like her kids needed to. I can say it now. I need to be a mom of a new age bracket. I need to be a mom of school-age kids. They’re ready. I’m going to pack a lunch and take it to Ladybird Lake and sit by the water.
Because I’m ready.