I’ve been watching my social media the last couple of weeks as we wrapped up this school year. I’m watching more than one friend celebrate a graduation from High School, and for some of us, it’s the last time we wrap up a school year. This is it. All the babies will have flown the coop.
Some of these mommas I’ve known since I was in highschool myself. We have friends who have gone before us and have been firmly on the other side of the child rearing thing for awhile now. There is a difference between child rearing and parenting. Parenting never ends, thankfully. Just this past week my daughter called me, upset about something that had happened at work. I’m so thankful that my children call me in times of strife, and in times of joy. It’s a pretty great place to be. Child rearing is the task from birth to 18 where you are doing your best to nurture, educate, love, and raise good humans. It’s not easy work and it often feels quite thankless.
I remember years ago, my partner at the time and I were discussing his sister and his concerns that her whole life revolved around her children. She worked at their school. They were all heavily involved in sports and she was the team mom for all of them. Her life revolved around feeding them, cleaning their gear, transporting them and cheering them on. We wondered how she would adjust when they all moved out and moved on, would that empty feeling be able to be filled? I don’t know how she managed that transition, but ever since my kids were young I tried to carve out my own interests and my own sense of self. Partially simply because that’s what I needed, and partially because I didn’t want to get to the end of this child rearing time and feel gutted.
As I sit here, the day of my youngests graduation, I don’t feel gutted, but I do feel sad. As happy and as excited as I am for him to go to college, and I am truly excited for us both on that, I am sad. Raising my children has been the biggest part of my life for the last 26 years. Over half of my life at this point.
When I think back to the early years of being a single momma, I think about my fellow mom friends. Some of them were single moms like me and some of them were married but we all struggled with similar issues. The single moms struggled with finances as much as anything. I still get a knot in my stomach when I see an electric company truck drive by. I forget for a second that my income covers all of my bills now, and they aren’t coming to shut off my lights.
I had lunch with one of those single mom friends not long ago and we were laughing in that way you do when something isn’t really that funny but you laugh anyway and that’s financial PTSD. When you forget where you parked your car and for a second wonder if it got repossessed. When you go to pay for groceries and for a split second you wait for your card to get declined. Those are things that happened. More than once I remember leaving my cart and leaving the store with my three kids just devastated and embarrassed because I didn’t realize I was out of money, again.
I still get giddy when I pay my bills and there is money left over, THE JOY of that. It’s been several years now that I’ve been semi-financially stable and I still feel all of those things all of the time. I’m not sure it ever goes away.
My married friends dealt with other issues. Parenting inequality being the biggest issue. Working mothers still parent a significant amount more than their husbands. The mental fatigue of running a household, keeping track of the kids and the bills and the day to day life of a family, on top of a job still falls heavily to women. While I see this less in the generations below me, I see the toll it took on my contemporaries. Liberation has never been so exhausting.
I think about my neighbor from my first home. We met when I was 21, having just gotten married and bought my first home with my husband. Her and her husband got pregnant right after I did with Taylor, our firstborns arriving within 6 months of each other. I’ll never forget when she wasn’t able to bring her son home from the hospital like I was able to bring home my daughter. He had health issues and had to have surgery and I baked them brownies. I didn’t know how to make that situation ok so I tried to bake it away.
Her son did come home, and he grew into a tall, strong, smart man who plays the sport he loved even as a toddler, Hockey.
Her youngest graduates this year too. While we didn’t remain the type of friends who lunch, we’ve stayed in touch through social media and I’ve always felt a kinship to her, that other young momma on the cul-de-sac back in the early days.
We all have different plans for our lives. Some of us are still single. (Ok, I’m still single.) Most have partners they plan on doing things with. They look forward to grandchildren I suppose. They will probably travel more, something that’s really hard to financially manage with kids, even if you do have two incomes. I don’t know what everyone’s plans are. I just know this week, and next, and for a few dozen more we will all be feeling a bit nostalgic. We will flip through pictures of our kids as we prep for grad parties and wonder how it all went so fast. Those long years, how did they fly by? We will gladly look at these pictures as guidestones, we did ok right? We did things, big things and little things. We read books, and we played. We took bike rides and went to the park. We sang songs in the car, we rubbed backs before bedtime. We cleaned up puke and picked up 10,000 socks. We laid awake at night and worried, wondering, are they happy? Are they ok? We got together and talked to our friends about how exhausting and hard being a mother is, and then we went home and kissed their beautiful sleeping faces and loved them more than anything else in this world.
Cheers mommas. To whatever is your next.