IT WASN’T LONELINESS. It wasn’t heartbreak. It wasn’t regret. It wasn’t sadness or melancholy. It wasn’t despair. It wasn’t wistfulness. It wasn’t loss or grief. It wasn’t nostalgia. It wasn’t longing. It wasn’t disappointment, but it sure wasn’t delight. I couldn’t put my finger on it. It felt like I had mastered a skill, but I had never before felt this emotion. Then, in an empty house, it hit me. My life’s most joyful moments, my happiest years, the most fulfilled I have ever felt, were the years I spent raising my young children. And those days were numbered.
How could I be blindsided by the inevitable? How could I have truly known one day, my life’s work would, quite literally, graduate and happily walk out the door? I worked myself out of the toughest and most wonderful, blessed job I will ever know. Turns out those years of toiling with little sleep, little money, little help, little emotional reserves, and lots of little feet were the most joyful years of my life. In a blink, my kids are grown. In the thick of it, there was madness: dinners, diapers, day care, and discipline. There was crippling self-doubt, the certainty I was doing it all wrong. There was debilitating back pain. There were hideous flashes of anger, despair, and hopelessness. There was free-falling in love so deep, so powerful and so boundless it was terrifyingly vulnerable.
There were parts of me, parts of my soul, I did not know existed until I had children; some parts were tender and sweet. Other parts were so dark and shadowy that I was filled with shame. Still, other parts of me winced from the wounds of my childhood not yet healed. Motherhood exposed this expanse.
There were victories over shoelaces and toilet bowls and phonics that left me with a disproportionate sense of triumph and pride. There were years spent reading the same banal books each night. There were hours laying in the grass, watching the clouds roll by. How many skinned knees have been kissed? How many baths have been drawn? How many WTFs have echoed through my head? How much needless worry kept me from being present? How much precious time was wasted trying to appear perfect?
Many days, I’d pray for the strength to endure the mind-numbing monotony of daily life. And, in the next instant, my breath would be sucked from my lungs and I’d pray time would freeze so I could savor the sweetness forever. There were moments so moving they’ve imprinted on my soul. I am humbled and forever changed.
My youngest leaves for college this month. The exhausting, joyful, meaningful, boring, maddening, and challenging days of raising my kids are behind me. It doesn’t make me feel washed up. It doesn’t make me feel empty. It doesn’t make me feel like the best parts of me have atrophied and, hear this loud and clear, it sure doesn’t make me want to have another baby. That is a young girl’s game.
I am certain my next chapter is going to include meaningful accomplishments and experiences; the wonder of living is alive and well. I am breathlessly grateful to finally have time to focus on myself. And yet, somehow I know that anything else I accomplish in my hopefully long and healthy life, will not matter quite as much as having had the privilege of raising four funny, smart, and imperfect children. Being their mother is my greatest honor. Like an artist who must part with her best works, I am ready for my nest to empty.
T-Ann Pierce is an F&B contributor and confidence coach. Be in touch if you need a tissue. We’re all in this together: [email protected]