This morning I went to the grocery store alone because I can. I can also get dressed alone, take a shower alone and even do laundry without a toddler stuck to me like napalm. Instead of sitting in high chairs, my kids now sit at school desks all day long.
I pushed my grocery cart past a younger mom who had an infant and two toddlers in tow. She was breaking up a sibling hair-pulling incident and cleaning up the shower of Apple Jacks that her son dumped on the floor. She was rattled and had that familiar expression like she was considering leaving her kids on aisle four and running from the building, screaming.
I felt a faint smile creep across my face and then a warm bit of nostalgia. I miss those days. Sure, I probably suffer from a severe case of mommy amnesia, and I bet when she caught me smiling she wanted to punch me.
But soon after the nostalgia came sadness, and then loneliness. I envied the way her babies need her. I also envied her more youthful skin, but mostly I longed for a baby to snuggle with. I miss having an infant burrow his head into my neck so I can smell his baby scent. It must be some combination of diaper cream and baby-safe detergent, but to me it is heavenly. Puppy breath is a close second.
I used to be that mom. I wished my kids were older so I could just buy the weekly groceries in peace. Well, I got there and it’s not the utopia I expected. I will spare the younger mommies the savor-every-moment mantra that used to make me roll my eyes in frustration. Sort of. You really will miss it.
My kiddos are relatively self-sufficient and I am coming up for air. They don’t need me to tie their shoes or pour their milk. They want to fix their own ponytails and sit in a separate row from me at the movies. I feel like a bystander who is no longer worthy of the I-don’t-know-how-she-does-it Mother’s Day cards.
But they do need me, just in a different way. Instead of potty training, my goals for the day include teaching her to stand up for a friend when no one else will, and encouraging him to believe in himself when he is the only one of his friends who did not make the basketball team.
I hope that somewhere between the long-gone diaper changes and naptime struggles I gave them a foundation to become really good kids. I was so concerned that they didn’t stick their finger in an electric socket or get run over by a truck that I wonder if I forgot the emotional and spiritual side of things. I hope not.
I can’t control and fix everything like I did when they were toddlers, and I shouldn’t. But, I really want to. Like really, really want to. The line between micromanaging their lives and letting them find their own way eludes me.
The best I can figure, my job is to love and support them, and be their soft place to fall when things go wrong. Motherhood is now more about backing off, so I watch from the sideline, ready to be needed. I hope they know that. In spite of their blooming independence and their need for space to grow, I hope they know.