This Mother’s Day will mark the last one that I am a full-time mom. My youngest will be leaving for college at the end of August, which means that after nearly three decades, I will be an empty nester.
I am no stranger to the changing nature of motherhood. When my three boys were little, it was all about physical caretaking; making sure they were fed and clean. I read to them and cuddled them and covered their faces with kisses millions of times as I lifted them out of their cribs, high chairs, car seats, strollers, etc. We had outings to the park and playground and we were together almost all of the time. It was me and them and we made a great team.
As they began to walk and then run, I became their protector. This was no easy feat because my sons often seemed hell bent on self-destruction and I often felt as if I spent my days saving them from themselves. There was the time my middle son, who was almost two, ate goose poop on a soccer field. Although he was fine, more than two decades later I am still scarred.
Between my older boys there were a slew of gashes that needed stitches and broken bones that needed setting. I was in charge of triage, trying to figure out how serious each injury was, a job for which my degree in English literature did not prepare me. At one point, the nurses in the orthopedist’s office knew my name and I was concerned they might call social services on me. Luckily, most of my sons’ injuries happened when they were not with me; most were sports related. I told the doctors that I should get a punch card where the cast for the tenth break was free.
My favorite role probably has been that of teacher. I am proud that I taught my sons how to read and was even more excited than they were when they sounded out their first words. I taught them their first notes on the piano (always starting with middle C), how to tie their sneakers, poetry, and a million other things I’m not sure they remember. But I do.
When my sons became teenagers, my role felt as it had morphed into being a warden and disciplinarian-in-chief. All of a sudden, instead of it being me and them it sometimes felt like me against them. This may have been the hardest stage of all because I didn’t enjoy enforcing rules—I suppose most people don’t. After all, who wants to be checking on homework and grades and meting out punishment for broken curfews and other infringements? Parents of teens will most certainly understand the grueling and often unrewarding nature of that stage.
Resident Uber driver, playmate, nurse, tutor, cheerleader; these are only a few of the other hats I wore over the many years I parented.
As my two older sons have gone off to college and graduated, gotten jobs and left the nest, I have found my role shifting once again. This phase is less hands on and more advisory; I am mostly called upon to listen to woes, lend moral support and occasionally offer an opinion. I’ve also entered a phase where, in addition to being my sons’ mom, I get to be their friend and can enjoy them in a way that I was not able to when they were younger. When we are together, we talk about their jobs, politics, life, whatever. And it’s really nice. When they were younger, and we were at odds, I honestly couldn’t envision the relationships we have now. For those of you still in the trenches, hang in there.
I won’t sugarcoat how hard it is to imagine all three of their bedrooms clean and empty and the house eerily quiet. After all, wasn’t it just a moment ago when they were little, making messes and noise? I am comforted by the thought that although my role has changed, two things remain constant; that I will always be needed in some capacity and how much I will always love my children.
This Mother’s Day, whether you’re peering at your baby’s first sonogram, opening homemade cards in bed with your little kids, joining your big kids for brunch, or even if you can’t physically be with your children, I hope you have a wonderful day. Because all of us who have nurtured, protected, disciplined and loved, have earned it.