I can sit on my front porch, or perch on the hill in my back yard, and most always I will see some type of raptor. Lured by the tall canopy of tulip poplars that create a fairy tale forest, or sometimes just the stink of rotting roadkill, the hawks and vultures love to soar where I can see them. They easily display their magnificence with their wings stretched wide, and underneath them and the towering trees, I am made small in my world.
I find myself in this strange new phase of mothering. Griffin is now three, and is so much more of a three year old kid than Grant ever was, and probably Renee, too. What I mean is this: he chased those big kids right into their territory. I would not call him so much of a toddler, because that sounds way too primary. Grant as a three year old was sedate and mild compared to this small-bodied faux-big-kid. He does not want a hovering mother telling him what he can and can’t do. It’s lovely, and scary.
It’s lovely, because for the first time in seven years the demands on my physical presence are so much less. I don’t have to have eyes on everyone all the time. They can all handle the stairs on their own, the bathroom (mostly) on their own, can build forts on their own. For the first time in a long time, I have some breathing room. This is lovely.
(It’s scary, too, because Griffin has no fear, and doesn’t back down from a challenge, nor suffer from lack of imagination. He’s been climbing trees now for a full year, and it’s perplexing to me that he’s the child who has yet to see the inside of the ER).
This transition, like my experience with most transitions, has filled me with angst. During those earlier, physically demanding years, their sun rose and set with me, pretty literally. Especially with Grant, when it was just the two of us, I was the whole show. Whatever his experience, it was a good bet that I had orchestrated it. At times feeling suffocated, or at least limited, I didn’t always embrace my starring role, but there I was, nonetheless. As the kids grow, however, they have learned to take charge of their own experiences, mostly. Throw a few siblings in there, and I’m hardly the center of the show anymore. No longer the central character in their story, I much prefer a supporting role.
Though of course I do still spend time playing with the kids, reading books, building towers, doing puzzles, so much more of their time is play that is all their own. They don’t need me to build a fort for them – they do it themselves. They don’t need me to entertain them with activities or arts and crafts – they have their own ideas and initiate their own games. I’m called on to tie something up, or to reach a box way up on a high shelf. They don’t want me hovering or interfering.
This is beautiful, and magical, and I love to see their true selves come out through this type of play. But left out of this part of the equation, I have yet to find exactly my place in all of it. It’s an awkward transition, to find one’s self pushed from center stage to the wings, however welcomed it is. Released from the starring role in their lives, I know have to find my way back as the central character in my own story.
When the kids run off upstairs, lost in a world of imagination, I’m left behind downstairs. I strain my ear to catch snippets of their play, at once grateful that we have dragged our feet to put away baby monitors, not to monitor their safety, but to allow me the joy to hear them play so uncensored. After a few moments, it’s clear they aren’t coming down for a while, and this is where my angst swirls in. My supporting role as mother leaves me here, ready and waiting for when they need a snack, or help unbuttoning a dress, or to work through squabbles, but until then I spin pointless circles around the kitchen. I empty the dishwasher, prep for dinner. I busy myself with housework, needing to feel productive, but eventually I feel utterly dissatisfied. Because a pile of laundry can’t give cuddles and kisses, and the kitchen counters, no matter how shiny, don’t ever say I love you.
Recently, I was reminded of the idiom “work before play” and I crinkled my nose at the thought. It’s not that I don’t possess a strong work ethic, or want to teach my kids the importance of earnest dedication. It’s because I recognize how unfair and misleading it is. There is inherent wisdom in this, of course, that have-to’s trump want-to’s, but in my world, as in most of ours, the work is never done. There is always something else that needs to be taken care of, and by continually chasing that dangling carrot, trying to finish it all before rewarding myself with leisure and enjoyment, I succumb to burn out.
My world swings on the pendulum from acedia to freneticism, so while it may sounds luxurious or indulgent to spend an afternoon in the sunshine reading a book while the kids play on the swing set in my periphery, I know that I’m warding off mothering fatigue and storing up for the next challenge.
Though I can’t drift far, I can involve myself in things that are my own – an art project just for me, a cup of tea and a book, work in the garden. The constraints are still there – I still need to be flexible enough to change directions, dropping it all in response to arisen needs. And we all know how it is: the minute my hands are deep in raw chicken prepping for dinner, I’m needed in a thousand directions all at once.
I know that my work as a mother is just as important now as it was in those earlier years, and that this time I have is a gift to strengthen myself for whatever season may be next. I know that, out of the trenches of such physically demanding mothering, next I face into years of harder emotional parenting, navigating problems that grow as their bodies and brains do. Some days, even, the next hard thing is homework battles in the afternoon or bedtime whack-a-mole. I take seriously this responsibility, then, to find the beauty for myself in the gift of this freedom.
I’ve been watching this hawk for a while, now. He seems so peaceful, soaring above the noise and grit of it all. He beats his wings once, twice, and then not again for minutes and minutes. Conserving his energy, he reads the air, observes the breeze, then tips his wings and rises with the wind. He soars, and he soars, higher and higher, then lower again, waiting, and watching.