Last week, something monumental happened: I dropped all four of my children off at school for the first time ever.
Sitting in the parking lot after I had walked my 3-year-old into her very first day of preschool, I felt like I was in shock. Granted, I was only gaining a whole four hours of freedom every week with her preschool program, but after 10 years as a stay-at-home mom, there was a glimmer of the end in sight.
Don't get me wrong, it's not that I haven't enjoyed the baby, toddler and preschool years. They've been great to the extent that babies and toddlers and working from home can be great (Read: Not always great but with a lot of really great moments.) But just like the air turning with that distinctive undercurrent bearing the promise of fall, I felt the stirrings of my future swirling around me.
For the first time in 10 years I was facing a future without a baby—and that realization was a little painful to me.
The truth is, I should have had a baby this year. I miscarried last summer and it was one of the hardest things I've ever dealt with, and understandably, it's shaped a lot of how I currently live my life.
It's hard for me not to think of how much different my life could look right now or how I should be juggling an almost-6-month-old as I handle the school runs or how much more sleep-deprived I could be at the moment.
As fall hit, I found myself feeling very restless and itching for a new project. I contemplated going back to school and confessed my feelings to my husband that I was struggling with not having that "newness" that would have arrived with a new baby. It was around that time that I just happened to come across an article that gave advice to moms in my situation, moms who are struggling with redefining themselves as they move past the baby stage.
The advice basically boiled down to this: When you're done growing babies, it's time to grow something else.
The simplicity of those words really hit home for me, because when you think about it, babies are the ultimate "project," aren't they? Babies are the promise of everything new and right with the world. They are literal beacons of hope and love and light and they come with the very practical tasks of rearranging our lives to make room for them. There are countdowns and to-do lists and a nursery to set up and baby clothes to buy and other siblings to prepare.
Shutting the door on that stage of life is hard, because it's so final.
Yes, it's a person and a life and a member of your family, but I realized that there's also something to be said about the excitement of changing your life and preparing for the birth and the newborn stages and getting organized and everything that comes with having a baby.
Shutting the door on that stage of life is hard, because it's so final. There's no "next step" to look forward to, no realization that your life will change in such a drastic way and no prospect of something wonderful ahead of you. And facing the rest of your life without the prospect of anything that new and exciting ever can be hard, too.
So, in its stead? It's time to get growing, mamas.
I realized that as much as I'm allowed to mourn the baby that never came to be, I'm also allowed to recognize my own need for something else to grow and nurture. I won't ever be able to replace a baby, of course, but I can pour my energy into something else to love and ways to grow myself as a person. So, I'm trying.
I launched a new business as a writing coach, I tried taking up crocheting (it did not go well), I started the next great American novel and—for the first time in a long, long, long while—I just slowed down, in general. I started hanging out outside more. I sometimes literally do nothing with my 3-year-old more, laying on the rug while we play together.
I sip my coffee outside in the morning, wrapped up in a blanket, instead of hunkering down at my computer first thing in the morning. I even (gasp!) started watching some new shows at night, something I haven't done in, um, my whole life, as I've always been focused on work first. My husband and I are looking at purchasing our dream home this fall, so I am wholeheartedly throwing myself into the prospect of decorating a new home and Pinteresting all the things.
And honestly? It's been amazing.
I'm recognizing that I have a need to grow something at this stage and that there's nothing wrong with that. For you, maybe it's a baby. Maybe it's volunteering at your kids' school or a new job. Whatever it is, grow on, mamas.