My youngest son started kindergarten last week and I’m feeling all the typical feels. For starters, I am lamenting the end of an era: the memories of meandering morning strolls and afternoon playdates fade into the archives as my sweet boy runs through the aisles of Target independently reading his school supply list. “What’s a ream of white paper?” he shouts. He is beyond ready for this new challenge, but I stand amidst the brightly colored poly-pronged folders and wonder if I’m prepared.
I walk by the dozens of moms with restless toddlers harnessed into the cherry red carts. Often there is a car seat carrying an infant consuming most of the cargo space while boxes of diapers and wet wipes are stowed below. While I don’t necessarily long to return to that intensely hands-on stage of parenting, I am momentarily halted by the finality of it all. That stage is over for our family and a new door stands open ahead, a passageway that is both inviting and daunting.
The transition is further intensified for me, because I am a stay-at-home mom. After teaching high school English for nearly ten years, I left the classroom the day my older son was born. Seven and a half years later, I find myself at a crossroads as my littlest ventures off into the school years. As you can imagine, I’ve been barraged with questions by well-meaning friends and strangers alike, “What will you do with all that time?” “Wow, this will be a big change for you.” I usually reply with a flippant tone, a remark like, “Yeah- they’re putting me out of a job.” or “Looks like I’m getting laid off!” As I reflect on a real and honest response to these questions, I find it interesting that my knee-jerk reaction is to use occupational language to describe my status. While I truly cherished those days home with my boys, I have always felt slightly unsettled about leaving a career I loved. While I would never trade the slow-paced days of morning snuggles, I missed the cerebral puzzles of writing curriculum and analyzing literature. I missed professional endeavors and adult interaction. It makes me laugh now when I stare at my crowded book shelves jammed with parenting books that I’ve read and discussed with other mamas along the way. This was just one way I sought to intellectualize parenting and see my role as a profession of sorts.
And now I look ahead to my new “job.” Shift work might be a good way to describe it. The early morning and late afternoon/evening shifts will carry on as usual, but there will be that daytime shift open for hire. As I consider the options, there are certainly countless chores and home projects to fill the hours. There are errands and meal preparation and volunteer opportunities. My almost instinctual response is to sign up for every open PTO committee at my sons’ school. That “work” essentially feels like an extension of my current “job”, right? While I look forward to devoting my time to many of these important tasks this year, I also find myself wanting to reframe this opportunity, to rewrite the possibilities with different language.
What if I viewed my role as a stay-at-home mom and this upcoming shift through an educational lens instead? Now that I’ve completed the requisite courses in breastfeeding, babyproofing, and parallel play, it’s time for a capstone project of sorts, an independent study perhaps that will literally be a study of myself. How have my interests and goals changed in the past 7 years? What is important to me now after training at the University of Motherhood? How do my career aspirations align with this new and ever-changing role? Rather than feeling guilt about all this luxurious “free time” that lies ahead, I’m feeling thankful for this “gap year” to pursue this study. After all, my nest isn’t empty yet. It’s just offering me some quiet study hours to consider where I will fly next.