Our first day of kindergarten was yesterday. When I say "our", I don't mean it in the way that mothers often say, "Okay, now, let's eat our breakfast....." It has really felt as though we've all been barreling unmistakeably and unstoppably toward that day all summer. Or at least for the past few weeks. Sunday night and yesterday morning, I felt as though it were my first day too- checking and double-checking that the backpack was labeled, the milk money safely in an envelope with her name on it, the laundry done. I had braced myself for whatever might come when the bus arrived. And as it turned out, it was perfect.
Charlotte's been different in the past weeks: physically clingy here and there, regressing into baby talk one moment, coming out with funny, almost snarky, comments the next. She's asked questions that are difficult to answer and been thoughtful about things, all while following me from room to room, close at my heels. She has known that things are about to change, and (I think) wasn't quite sure how she felt about it.
A week or so ago at bedtime, she brought me Someday to read:
Someday I will stand on this porch and watch your arms waving to me until I no longer see you. Someday you will look at this house and wonder how something that feels so big can look so small.
I find myself faced with both huge excitement at what lies ahead and reluctance to let this time go- the same duality that has come before, and will again, as she moves through each major development. This is what children do, what they are supposed to do. They grow up, and they get on a school bus, you drop them off at a college campus, you visit them at a first apartment and plan their weddings. They grow up. This means that you did your job right.
The conclusion that I've come to is that my feelings on the eve of big kid-dom are not all about Charlotte, because the growing and the developing and the independence? that's all normal and good and I look forward to all of it. Part of it is me, and how I am changing, how we evolve together as mother and child, as individuals, as a family, and for me and Pete, as a couple. I don't feel as though my whole identity has been tied up in motherhood, although it is now one of the cornerstones of the structure of who I am.
I recently read Bad Mother. And while Ayelet Waldman does discuss mothering her four children, the book is more about how being a mother has changed her in ways that have little to do with her children, about the invisible standards that exist for mothers and how were are destined to fail if we insist on holding ourselves up to those shadowy yardsticks for scrutiny. There needs to be someone inside Mommy's head besides Mommy. It is necessary, and healthy, that there are things that matter in addition to our kids....and it's a hard dogma to maintain in the face of the helicopter parents and professional room mothers who judge a person for working full time. For taking advantage of the after-school care every minute between when school ends and 5:30 pm. For taking a weekend off and visiting with friends. For working late and coming home after the kidlet(s) have gone to sleep.
The hardest judgments are those we place on ourselves. The most difficult standards for me to live up to are my own.
And what this whole line of thinking circles back to is the fact that I an still searching for answers. Since it's fairly obvious that I could be doing more fulfilling things with my time, what's next? I know who I am. I know that I am not defined by my work, but it's a part of my identity (not least because I've been doing the same work for so long). The idea of making changes leads me down a path of choices (which is always difficult) and possible sacrifices (even more difficult). I'm too comfortable. I need to shake things up and be prepared for whatever comes my way.
Kind of like being a parent.