Monday, May 4, 2015

Mother's's about time

Looking back on all the Mother’s Day gifts I’ve received during the 36 years since my first child was born, the ones I appreciated most were gifts of time — specifically, alone time. They were the precious hours when I was free from the responsibilities of being a mom.

Now that my four children are grown, it’s different, but when they were little, I wanted nothing more than a few hours alone in my own home with no one yelling “Mama!” I wanted no sticky fingers clinging to my legs. For just a few hours — four seemed ideal — I longed to be able to focus on something without interruptions, a chance to do the things I liked to do without anyone demanding my attention.

Those memories returned recently during separate conversations with both of my daughters. My girls, now each mothers themselves of young children, talked about the stress of parenting preschoolers. Years of interrupted sleep, the frustration of dealing with willful toddlers and the struggles over confusing and often conflicting parenting decisions had caught up with them. Despite deep love and devotion to their each of their offspring, both daughters yearned for a few blissful hours of relief.

I listened to their words with empathy and compassion. Having experienced it myself, I understood their frustration and wholeheartedly supported their needs for short periods of separateness. As much as I wanted to tell them that these difficult stages of parenting would soon be over, I held back saying words I knew wouldn’t help.

As a 63-year-old grandmother, I have gained perspective. Looking back on my own first decade of parenting, I now know how fleeting the early years of childrearing actually are. Children grow up quickly. Behaviors that once seemed unending and unendurable magically morph into fond memories. Insufferable phases finally change and at some point, even sleep routines return to semi-normal patterns.

I was unable to understand these concepts when I was a sleep-deprived, preoccupied mom who couldn’t remember when she last wore unstained clothes or talked on the phone without being interrupted. We all know children grow up quickly, but the reality of those words doesn’t sink in until the early parenting stage of life is over.

These days, sticky fingers no longer pull on my clothes nor am I barraged by little voices begging me to ‘Watch this’ or ‘Look at that.’ The need for a brief escape from my four kids for just a few hours is no longer something I crave. And yet, an unfulfilled longing still exists. Time has flipped the scales. Instead of imagining time apart from my kids, now I wish I could have a few uninterrupted hours to spend with each of them individually.

Looking back, I realize that the Mother’s Day gifts I appreciated most have always been gifts of time. They still are.

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