"Once they're all in school, I can relax."
"Once they start graduating, things will slow down."
The job of child-rearing brings with it some obvious milestones and markers. They grow up; that's the point.
I once told somebody that kids were better than cats because eventually, the kids learned how to open the door and walk out by themselves. A cat? Never gonna happen.
They do grow up; and in all my days, I have clung to imaginary markers along that journey. In the chaos of life with four kids under five, when we were buried in Pampers and Barbies and endless, important demands of time and energy and love and patience, I couldn't even imagine a day when they would all be self-sufficient.
Couldn't imagine it, but I longed for it. I envisioned a different life for myself, one that allowed time to breathe and space to move and a reclamation of the solo self that I was Before I Had Kids.
The day David - my youngest - started school, I made note. It was incredible, to think that they were that far along; that we'd made it to this milestone intact and relatively healthy. There was some serious freedom there that did not go unnoticed - just in the moments of solitude and the absence of needy children.
Then they started graduation, one by one, and now there are three of them out the door and living in other places.
They grow up; that's the point.
But I am unmoored, suddenly. Drifting a bit. They learned how to open the door and walk out by themselves, and they did, and now it's just me. And the cat. I longed for this day, to reclaim myself, but I had no idea how much I would change. And now there's not much to reclaim, because like the kids, that other person sort of up and walked out the door on her own. She left behind a body that's been around the block and a truck-load of wisdom, but that girl? Gone.
So reclamation is out the window, and re-imagining is the name of the game. It's just me, and I get to remake myself!
But it's not just me. It's me, and my husband, and two boys that have yet to set out, plus a bonus boy that seems to need what we have to offer. It is a set of circumstances, just like life 22 years ago, that requires my imagination, my creativity, my work, my effort, my commitment.
I've given up on clinging to what will be. Instead, I have learned to focus on what is.
Frankly, I miss those diaper days, the play-do and the Barbies and the unbridled, unbroken three-year old joy. I miss the mess. I miss the swirling chaos. I miss it all, and I have a strong sense of regret, in that I didn't appreciate what surrounded me while it was there.
I was too focused on what happened next.
Love where you're at today. Be in that moment. Reach out to touch, to heal, to love what is around you - whether it is children or friends or family or simply the place and time where you are.
What happens next might surprise you.
EDIT: For the record, my mother-in-law's cat CAN open doors. Which, frankly, is kind of creepy. So it's a metaphor, okay?