I got my first pang of what it’s going to feel like in one year when my oldest son goes off to college. And it’s not what you might think. Sure, I’ll miss him. But he’s so ready for this next step, and we’re ready for him to take it. It’s actually rather exciting to watch him unfold, think about what shape his future might take, and begin to work towards making it happen.
No, the pang I felt was about me and about what happens to my identity when he leaves the roost. I will, for the first time in 12 years, no longer be able to say that I have three kids at home.
It’s making me a little sad. I have staked a lot on this identity – the mom of three kids. Of course, I will still and always be the mom of three kids. I just wont be able to claim three children at home taking up my breath, space, time and energy.
Years ago, when I told my mother that I was pregnant with our youngest son, and that we were going to become a family with three children, her calm, soothing reaction was (and I quote) “WHAT???!!!???”
From that moment on, I had qualms about our decision. I had always had a hunch that I wanted to have three children, from the time my college boyfriend’s family with three kids took me in for a summer, and I watched their easy, loving banter and ability to deflect a lot. I thought that a family with three children was the perfect size.
But my mother’s reaction gave me pause. I would spend nights with my finger wandering up and down our synagogue’s family directory, counting how many families had three or more children. There’s one! There’s another! It’s not as abnormal as my mother thinks. At least not in the Jewish world.
My work colleagues at the time had a reaction more like my mother’s, and were all a little taken aback when I announced that I was pregnant with our third child. I felt off kilter, like I had chosen a bizarre and fraught path. Maybe I couldn’t handle it?
Of course, we went on to have our son – our wonderful, adorable, loving, we-can’t-imagine-the-world-without-him son, and our family of three children, or five altogether, was born. And I’ve never looked back.
I have so enjoyed being a mom with three kids at home. Yes, at first, let’s be honest, it was hell. Having three kids six-and-under is a bit like being in an abyss. But as they got older, and were able to do things like put on their own snowshoes, get their own cheese sticks and take baths and showers without assistance, it became much less daunting and much more fun. Indeed, as I had witnessed all those years ago, three children leads to easy banter and a lot less parental hovering. But lots of love and lots of fun and there’s always someone around.
Until now. I’m having an early taste of what it will feel like next year when the oldest ships out. Right now our youngest is at camp for a month, and the older two are basically behind their closed teenage doors. My husband and I are a little lost – what should we do with our time? Can we really make a plan to go out to the movies? What if they need us?
But they won’t. This is the new normal in our house, at least for the next few weeks. There are two adults, one almost-adult and one young teen whose room is her haven. And we have the freedom, for the first time in years, to plan our days with a different kind of rhythm.
I’m not sure I’m ready.
One of the things I’ve always liked best about being the mom of three kids, in my own slight attention-deficit way, is that I can always wait for someone to need something, and I don’t have to focus in on anything for too long. Give me a couple of lazy summer days with no organized plans, and I’m crawling up a wall. I like being needed.
I also have always appreciated the little nod of respect I get from those with one or two children and who have a hard time imagining what it must be like to have three. It’s kind of like wearing the scars of a warrior of a different caliber.
But the crazy secret is, three kids is easy. They rely on each other. We pay each of them less attention because we have to. Divide and conquer is our mantra. Not everyone gets to do or have everything they want because it’s just not possible. It allows for an easier flow in a household and hopefully, mellower parents.
So I am feeling a bit bereft, and a bit like someone has come along and stolen my identity. I am still the mom of three children – at home – for another year. But I am dreading the day one year from now when I suddenly graduate back down to a mom with only two children at home.
I’ll have more time to devote to work and to my other two children. More time to spend with my husband, without it having to be yet another conversation about a certain teen and his college applications. More ability to plan and be in control of my schedule.
And yet. I will no longer be the mom with three kids at home. It’s different. I’m sure I’ll get used to it. But even with all the freedom it brings, I can’t promise I’ll like it.
Our identities shift and change all through our lives. Younger to older, single to partnered, child-free to becoming parents, parents to grandparents. Parents with children at home eventually become empty nesters.
This looming new identity puts me a bit in limbo. Not the young mom with three children attached to every part of her body. But not the empty-nester yet either.
Just the mom who will have let the first of her three babies fly the coop and will be re-calibrating who she is and how she views the world.
Photo by Nina Kaye via Flickr