A summer "off," a move, and a bit of an identity crisis

The backpacks are packed and the schedules are set; the sun is setting on the summer of 2019, and also, on not one, but two chapters of my life, between a move back to my home state, and a massive shift in my role at home. 

Ever since my husband, Kenny, was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 (he passed in 2017), I’ve learned that I need to be flexible with the “chaos” that is life, and my ever changing role in it. Lately, though, it’’s felt like “a lot,” and until this week, I’ve been largely clueless as to why. As parents ,we all make jokes about it being the most wonderful time of the year; internet video clips of moms and dads celebrating are bountiful (and in my unpopular opinion: LAME), but I, personally, have been feeling heavy about the impending school year. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not intending to hold my kids back, and I get just as excited as other parents about getting structure back into our lives. It’s just that this year, to me, is different. Not just because we’re still “knee deep” in the process of moving from North Carolina, to New Jersey (back to my roots, and where we have familiar support), a process that is already bittersweet and stings my heart; but also, because my kids all suddenly seem much older than they were just three months ago, when summer began. Their new “school dynamic” isn’t quite helping my angst.

With this move, my oldest went from being on the “older kid” end of elementary school, to the lower end of an “upper elementary school” that extends through sixth grade. My middle child went from going into a middle grade, to the “oldest” grade at the PK-2 school; and my baby, my BABY is starting his full time education, exactly one week from today. That last one is what is about to put me over the edge of my Momsanity.

My four year old, Nathan, is, with little doubt, my last and final baby; something I only recently came to terms with. Being a thirty-eight year old widow, you’d think it would have dawned on me sooner, but Nathan wasn’t even two when my husband died. I was only thirty-five, so in theory, it was possible and plausible that I “could”  have more if circumstances lent to it. Over the course of two and a half years, and a healthy dose of realities as a solo parent later, I know that I need to be done. I love babies, and being a mom to babies, but I realized that, regardless of how fantastic any theoretical future marriage may be, there will always be a risk that I’d somehow end up a single mother of four (OR MORE) kids. That isn’t just more kids to “care for,” that’s the easy part; its more kids I have to stay alive for, to plan for, to worry for, none of which is fair to the kids already in existence. In the end, that’s a hard pass, from me. So as it would be, this move from NC to NJ, a chapter that’s closure is already pinching my fingers; has my last baby “skipping” one final year of “part time” preschool, launching him out of babyhood, and right into of full on “kiddom.” That’s not all it’s changing, either. 

I wasn’t quite prepared for this (which, I know, is shocking, considering how many times I’ve told EVERYONE that I’m not, at all, ready for it). As it approaches, I get a sinking feeling in my stomach, that seems to burn deeper with each passing day. I know he’ll be fine, fantastic even, and the last few days I’ve had to ask myself why it’s pummeling me so hard. Finally, the lightbulb went off; my days as a full time caregiver are essentially, and abruptly, over. Another facet of my “identity” being transitioned away. OUCH.

Over my tenure as a stay at home mom, I’ve dabbled in part time work; but my youngest being home, more than not, was like an anchor. For ten years, I’ve had someone home to care for. I always assumed I’d go back to work full time (even when my husband was alive, and healthy, and brain tumors were still “a thing that happened to other people.”). It always seemed so far off, though; some mystical, distant “someday,” a discussion that always ended in, “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”  My friends, my heart is both beaming and broken, as I’ve, for the first time since my late twenties, come to that bridge.

Many view this time in life as the “golden hour” of parenthood: kids are getting older, more independent, couples feel the ease of increased freedom, and knowing their options for family time are becoming greater. Yet, the kids still young enough that most parents still have some sense of control over what’s happening, and an ability to monitor them at a level they feel comfortable with. While these are still both true for me, and I’m grateful for that, the closing of all chapters, especially where my kids are concerned, come with a, now, automatic kidney jab. I obviously knew this day would come; what I didn’t know when we set out as parents, was that by the time I approached this magical bridge, I’d be approaching it alone. These last pages are bittersweet, and dripping with the duality of pride in the present day, on my own, and a coat of sadness remembering how we, together, envisioned this time would be.

Yesterday, I watched my four year old tour his school, and it all came into perspective. I saw him confidently bound up the stairs of the school bus, I watched as he chit chatted with the other students, excitedly engaged with his teacher, and strutted up the hallway with a walk that said, “Look out world, I’m READY!” He didn’t know it, but he, my last and final baby, inspired me. I’ve watched the video of that strut with proud Mommy eyes at least a dozen times, and I thought, “Well, if he’s ready, I’ve done something right…and you know what, I’m ready, too.” I don’t know what will come next; but I know that its time to take on my newest role in this chaotic world: single, full time, working Mom of three school aged kids.  

Look out, world, we’re ready!