I didn’t think I would enjoy motherhood as much as I have. I had no idea how much I would love it.
When I was pregnant for the first time I read voraciously about motherhood. I am nothing if not prepared. According to nearly everyone I talked to or everything I read motherhood would “change me forever”, “shake me to my core”, “be the hardest and the best thing I have ever done.” I didn’t expect motherhood to be easy. I steeled myself for breastfeeding battles, years of shitty sleep, and toddler tantrums.
I was so prepared for the worst that it took me months to finally realize that despite Thomas having colic, food allergies, and being the worst sleeper I had ever heard of that this motherhood gig was actually pretty fantastic. It was, in fact, not the hardest thing I had ever done (those honors go to Physics 106 at Caltech and no I am not joking – that class almost broke me and surviving post-postpartum depression after Theodore’s birth). I loved maternity leave and found myself perfectly content taking long walks with the baby, cooking phenomenal dinners, and hanging out at home. Working part-time I have loved most my days that I spend at home with the children. Overall, I have felt quite happy and confident in my role as a mother.
But over the past year something has been increasingly nagging at me; a feeling that I am no longer enjoying or doing a good job at part of motherhood. Last night I finally admitted out loud that I feel like I am floundering at being the mother of a school-aged child. I sat down to talk it out with Jeff to try to understand why after six years of feeling competent and content as a mother I felt so lost now. There is the obvious; I spend far less time with Thomas now than I ever have. Thomas is clearly happy and thriving in school and although I know I could do a good job at it I don’t have any desire to home school him. Yet, most of his waking hours, nearly 40 hours a week, are spent at school – a wonderful school to be sure – but a place that feels quite far removed from home.
Then there are the more subtle things. One in particular which escaped me until just now. I absolutely despise, being forced to be on someone else’s schedule. I am not in a mood to rehash my own childhood, but suffice it to say I grew up without much stability in terms of home and school. One of my coping methods (I now realize it was a coping method at the time I just thought of it as ambition) was to throw myself into a constant schedule of activities. I did not allow myself time to think. In high school I was rarely home; there was the science fair, speech team, mock trial, ballet lessons, theater, singing, flying lessons (fun Gina fact: I learned to fly a plane before I learned to drive a car), and I took college classes in addition to my high school ones. I then went to Caltech which was beyond challenging and basically had no life outside of school and Jeff for four years straight. I worked for two years and then went back to grad school for a masters degree in engineering while continuing to work full-time, with a demanding travel schedule to boot.
And then a couple of years later I had a baby and much to my surprise, despite popular wisdom that having a baby “ties you down”, I finally felt free. While on maternity leave, for the first time in my life, I had nothing really to do. Nurse and play with the baby, yes. Change diapers, certainly. I absolutely relished the freedom of being on no-one’s schedule but mine and my little baby. I had never had such a lack of structure and it was shockingly glorious. While other moms were signing up for weekly music classes and organizing regular playgroups I refrained from committing to anything on a regular basis. Now, six years later, with the addition of two more children my life is certainly more constrained but also remarkably (to me) free. On the days I am home with the children we sometimes stay in our jammies all day, we sometimes head out to a museum. We eat breakfast for dinner and pizza for breakfast if we feel like it. On the rare occasions that both of the little ones nap at the same time I sometimes sneak in a blissful nap too. Even though a significant part of the world takes a siesta every day and naps have been shown to have great health benefits, sleeping in the middle of the day still feels delightfully sinful to me.
Now with Thomas in kindergarten he, of course, has to be to school at 8:25 sharp every day. He has to be picked up at 3:15. I am very much a minimalist when it comes to scheduling young children and limit our kids to one activity at a time but there are now weekly piano lessons for Thomas and weekly ballet lessons for Theo. And the boys are asking for more; gymnastics and T-ball. So far I am holding out because those are simply too expensive for us, but if we had the means I would probably say yes. It seems that unless I want to home school so much of parenting school age children in our society involves shuttling children from one place to another. And I just hate it. I hate driving. I hate having to wake up two sleepy cranky children to pile them in the car to go pick up their brother. We have been fortunate in that Thomas’ school follows a very traditional approach to kindergarten and that there is almost no homework for him but good lord I am not going to like fitting homework into our day as the years progress. And how does one actually fit that in after work or with younger children around? It seems impossible with my current job, I don’t usually get home until 7:00 pm on the nights that I work and having Jeff supervise three kids, one of them doing homework (knowing Thomas’ personality probably resisting homework), while he tries to make dinner seems like a bit much.
One of the oft proposed solutions to parenting school age children seems to be to “get involved” at your child’s school. Quite frankly I am as involved as I want to be. I am happy to talk with Thomas’ teacher regularly, bake cookies for parties (we bake cookies a couple of times a week at our house anyway and this way I get to control the ingredients and the amount of sugar), and do very occasional volunteering such as the talk I recently gave to Thomas class on the solar system (that was fun). But I don’t have a particular passion for education – I respect teachers greatly but it is not a job I would want. I am never going to volunteer to be room mother or on the fundraising committee. I don’t particularly enjoy attending holiday concerts, etc. I would rather go to the dentist than a PTA meeting.
I think that what scares me most is the day when all of my children are in school. I don’t feel like I am doing a great job being a parent of a school-aged child right now and I am not sure how I am going to feel about parenting when my little ones have all gone off to school. How will I spend enough meaningful time with them? How will we stay connected? What is mothering a school age child beyond chauffeuring them around, attending to the tasks of daily life (cooking meals, packing lunches, doing laundry), and being “involved” at their school? How is there time left for anything else and what else is there when they are too old to want to go to the park or sing songs together or sit on my lap and read a story?
I fear that I sound like an ungrateful whiner. I know that this is a very first world problem. I am just really struggling with how to be parent of an older child. This floundering must be how many new parents feel – completely out of their element. Apparently I am a bit of an oddball in that it took me six years to get to feeling.
I am hoping to reconnect with Thomas over the winter break. But I need to find my footing as the mother of a school aged child – I am going to have kids in school for the next eighteen years of my life!