I take a great deal of satisfaction in having come to motherhood at what the doctors like to refer to as "advanced maternal age". (And the doctors can just smooch my butt, by the by. Ageist douchebags) I know plenty of women who procreated young, married young. Women I went to high school with are grandparents already, while my youngest isn't in kindergarten yet. I know that parenting can be harder when you don't have the energy you had, but in many ways it can also be extremely satisfying. Unlike my friends who by necessity became mature adults when they were in their late teens/early twenties, I enjoyed more than a decade of doing whatever the hell I wanted whenever I felt like it. I wished I'd traveled more. Wished I'd written that novel. But still and all, those were very good years. I don't have the lingering feeling that I missed my youth. Now that I'm approaching middle age, I don't have any desire to get a fancy car or a younger boyfriend, or even to go out and hit the party scene as I see too many women my age doing. I know many of them are trying to make up for a youth they never got to fully enjoy thanks to the responsibilities and fiscal burden of being young parents. I got to sow my wild oats - and then some, thank you very much.
No, the things I miss now, as a mom, are not the things that one might expect. But there are things that are gone from my life, things I really wish I still had:
1. Language. I have a B.A. in English. I have been reading since the age of 3. I LOVE words. I like nothing more than reading a deft turn of phrase or a scene described so vividly that I can smell and feel it. Words used to roll off of my tongue and pen with the ease of a well-oiled hinge. No longer. With the onset of my first pregnancy, I fell victim to the dreaded cerebrus maternus-- MOMMY BRAIN. This insidious disease has taken root deep in my system, and the most prevalent symptom is complete dyspraxia. I KNOW there is a word that I want to use. I just can't REMEMBER IT. And so I have gone from being what I used to gloatingly consider an eloquent person to one who stammers and says "SHIT! What was that word? SHIT!" constantly.
2. Abs. I am pretty sure there are still muscles inside my abdomen. But I can' find them. Endless crunches, yoga dvds, leg raises and shredding a la Jillian Michaels have failed to cause them to reappear, so I must finally accept the fact that they are gone forever. Along with whatever used to resemble skin tone being my navel and pubic bone. Seriously, is the skin there always going to wrinkle and sag?
3. Money. Sometimes I have this great dream, wherein I go get a pedicure and have my legs waxed, hit the salon for a good haircut. Then I go to Barnes & Noble and drop $150 on books, and stop and have a grande nonfat vanilla latte at Starbucks. On the way home I fill up my tank with premium gasoline, and when I go to the grocery store I buy WHATEVER. I. WANT. Then I wake up. I cry. The end.
4. Coherency. I believe that the loss of logic and deductive reasoning is a secondary symptom of cerebrus maternus. Along with the inability to speak, I have lost the ability to remember things like math and people's names, follow simple directions or respond appropriately in social situations. I try to yell at my dogs and I call them by my children's names - I try to yell at my children and I call them by the dog's names. I have solved this problem by simply yelling "HerculesRoscoeFosterDogChildAChildB - STOP THAT!!!!" I put milk away in the cupboards, I pour coffee on my cereal, and on more than one occasion have arrived at work to find that I have two different shoes on my feet.
5. Me Time. Its not that I was ever the kind of girl who was into meditation and quiet moments. But I have always enjoyed having time to bury my nose in a book or sit and watch a movie without interruption. In the past 8 years, the only time that I have been able to read more than one paragraph of a novel without hearing "Mommy! I have to go potty!" "Mommy, I'm hungry" "Mommy, the dog ate my Barbie and then pooped out her shoe!" have been when I was traveling for business and staying in a hotel room by myself. J used to think that my work trips were my chance to go live it up in strange towns with strange men. In truth, the strangest thing happening was that I would run myself a nice quiet bath, get a glass of wine from room service and fall asleep in a warm tub while reading a book. I know, you're thinking "Good God, that woman's a HELLION!"
6. Music. They may finally be getting over it, but I have not been allowed to play the piano or sing since my daughter could speak. Music has always been a part of my life - fourteen years of piano lessons, singing at weddings or whenever I could, teaching myself to play the guitar. There was a time in my life when I sat at the keys nearly every day. When the Amazon Girl was a baby, there didn't seem to be time, and the last thing I wanted to do if she was giving me a few minutes of free time by napping was wake her up with my piano playing. When she was a toddler and could entertain herself, I thought to myself "Finally! NOW I can play!" I sat on the piano bench, selected a nice old jazz standard and started to play. No more had the first notes of "It Had to Be You" left my mouth, when suddenly a curly-haired virago appeared next to my chair. "NO MOMMY!! NO SINGING!" I patiently invited her to sit on my lap. She refused. "NO! Mommy NO SING!" And so it went. Every time I sat at the piano for more than a few minutes, a tantrum ensued. After the second child arrived, any attempt to enjoy a few minutes at the keys resulted in a fight erupting, something being broken, or an emergency which required my immediate attention. I have been forced to acknowledge that my children were born with an internal radar which informs them the moment I have decided to play the piano. I can prove this, because last weekend they were playing at the neighbors and after I finished my housework I sat down at the piano. No sooner had I started to play than daughter fell over and skinned both her knees. I could hear her screaming from half a block away. I'm going to try it next when they're at their dad's. What are the odds they can hear me then?
The price tag for parenting is high, in many respects. And when I take the time to think about the things that I miss most about being a child-free adult, what strikes me more than those things I no longer have is the presence of new things in my life that I cannot imagine living without.
1. Purpose. Before I became a mother, I wandered aimlessly through life. I did whatever I felt like doing at the moment, I took the opportunities that came along, but I had no direction. The arrival of my children changed that, not just by necessity, but by the awakening of the realization that I had found my place in the world. I have identified myself with many titles in my lifetime, all of them meaningful and profound. Daughter, Cowgirl, Athlete, Adoptee, Friend. Of all of the titles I hold dear, I cherish "Mother" the most. And because it is so important to me to live up to all that being a Mom means, I have no choice but to have a direction. To know where I'm going and what I stand for.
2. Flexibility. Nothing used to annoy me more than when my Grand Plans for things got screwed up. I always know how I want things to go, and rigidly following plan was also a way of coping with my ADHD. Any mother knows that while children want and need structure in their lives, that in the grander scheme of everyday, Plans, while noble in concept, are only meant to be adapted to Circumstance. A Plan is a good thing. Start with one and do your best to follow it. If you have children, be prepared for your Plans to be disrupted. Constantly. The bigger challenge to me was to learn to be OK with that. On the large and small scale, I have learned that one of the kindest things I can do for myself as a parent is to learn to be flexible. To learn that MY plans aren't always going to happen, and to be OK anyway. My children have given me a great gift by teaching me flexibility.
3. Relaxation. And I don't mean the "spa weekend" kind of relaxation. Technically falling under the category of Flexibility, relaxation is what happens when you stop trying to be on time for everything, when you stop watching the clock and panicking because you're going to be late for work/church/dinner/appointments. Relaxation is when you take a deep breath and decide to live in the moment and not care that you didn't make it to the movies because your kids decided to dismantle your washing machine and throw your car keys in the garbage. Its a survival skill - Relax or lose your mind. You pick.
4. Love. I know, its such a cliche. It can't be helped. I thought I knew what love was before. I thought the love I felt in my relationships was the ultimate kind of love, that needing-wanting to be with someone all the time, that desire for closeness and rapport. The kind of love I felt for my parents, needing, wanting to please. The kind of love I felt for my dog or my horse, having someone I could be around who loved me without an agenda, who liked me for me and made me feel good about myself. Certainly special, but nothing compared to the depth of love you feel when you hold your child for the first time. When some mechanism deep in your soul that you never realized existed awakens and you realize that THIS is the person you would die for. This is the person you would sacrifice everything for. This is the person that no matter what, you will do whatever you can to ensure they are protected, happy. There is no moment in the world that is so perfect as that moment when both of my children are near me. None.
5. Faith. It was easy to walk away from faith before I was a parent. When that changed, my perception of the entire universe shifted. How could I not look at the perfection of my baby, feel that upwelling of joy and fierce love, and not understand that there indeed WAS a greater purpose in life? Not feel intimately linked to Creation? My faith has been shaped by my experience as a parent, my understanding of Who I believe God to be honed by my own relationship with my children.
6. Family and Friends. My boundaries and definitions of family were refined once I became a parent. I began to appreciate and enjoy my own parents even more, because I was finally able to understand what the challenges of raising children can be like, I was able to see how a parent might be doing just the best they can in a difficult circumstance. I stopped having resentments about the things they did that I didn't agree with, because I got to experience how it felt to have other people question your choices or your parenting style. My relationships with other certain members of my family deepened, because we finally had some common ground. Children are life's great equalizers. You might meet someone with whom you think you have nothing in common, but if you are both parents, suddenly you have everything in common. Interestingly, the people in my life with toxic qualities suddenly became easier to say "no" to. I no longer have the luxury of tolerating bad behavior, I have children who are learning from me about what friendship means. I want to model healthy relationships, which means I have to HAVE healthy relationships.
7. Self Esteem. Physical perfection no longer matters. I have to learn to accept myself so that my daughter will not be twisted by my own body dysmorphia. But even deeper than learning to accept my imperfections has been learning to recognize my strengths. My children (at least for now) think that there is nothing I can't do. I can bandage every cut, soothe every hurt, I know how to operate the lawnmower and how to drive a car. In my children's eyes, I am Superwoman! Its hard to buy into negative perceptions from others when the people who matter most in the world to me think that I am beautiful, smart, powerful, amazing. The opinions of the outside world fade into just so much noise, and I can hold my head high, because I have the antidote to the poison of their negativity.