It's sort of like riding a bicycle - once you've done it, you never forget how. I'm talking about being a mom - more specifically, being the mom of a baby, or young child. I've just spent a few days visiting my son, daughter in law, and grandson, and it didn't take more than a minute for me to recall the myriad of feelings associated with full time motherhood.
The satisfying feel of a tiny hand tucked in yours, the comforting aroma of milky sweet baby breath.
The musical sound of those first words and squeals of delighted laughter.
The heart-grabbing sight of tottering footsteps and arms outstretched to be lifted up.
Of course, for every one of those wonderful sensations, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Hands grab what they shouldn't, and milk gets spilled just as often as drunk. Words of love turn into the toddler mantra (No! No! No!) and squeals of laughter become screams of frustration. Footsteps falter and fall, and little bodies need to be picked up and comforted.
While I was visiting, there was a post going around on the internet about being a stay at home mom. I read it and shared this excerpt on my own Facebook page:
"The people who completely immerse themselves in the tiring, thankless, profoundly important job of raising children ought to be put on a pedestal. We ought to revere them and admire them like we admire rocket scientists and war heroes. These women are doing something beautiful and complicated and challenging and terrifying and painful and joyous and essential. Whatever they are doing, they ARE doing something, and our civilization DEPENDS on them doing it well. Who else can say such a thing? What other job carries with it such consequences?"
Even though I raised only one child, I quickly learned that being a full time stay at home mom was a job fraught with conflicting emotions and one that required more energy than just about any other.
Yet, given it to do over, I wouldn't change a thing. Wouldn't give up being there for every one of those fabulous frustrating minutes. Wouldn't miss one sticky kiss or even one noisy temper tantrum.
Because let me assert this: I believe that being a full time stay at home mom (if you can possibly afford to do it) for at least the first five years of your child's life, is the most important gift you'll ever give yourself.
That's right, I said a gift for yourself. Shepherding the development of a tiny human, especially your very own tiny human, is a mind-boggling and humbling experience. It trumps every corporate coup, every artistic masterpiece, every legal battle fought and won.
Trust me - you don't want to miss it. Because one of these days, on a day that will come far quicker than you ever anticipated, those children will walk out your door and start their own lives. You'll have plenty of time on your hands when that happens. But you'll also have plenty of memories and a well placed sense of satisfaction about the days you spent devoted to their care.
But even though I believe staying home with your kids is valuable and important for them and actually quite selfish for you (because who wants to go to their grave feeling like they shortchanged themselves in kid-time?), I also think it's equally as important for every mom to have their own life.
You mothers out there covered in burp cloths, Boppy pillows, and onesies - you're sneering at me, I know. "Have my own life??" you're thinking. "I can't even find time to go to the bathroom! Where will I find time for a Life??"
It's a process. With every step toward independence your tiny human takes, you need to take one too. You need to venture forth into the world, one that doesn't include babies or toddlers and all their trappings. Join a book group or a photography club. Take a yoga class. Go to work part-time.
Take some baby steps down the road that will eventually lead you back to a Life of Your Own. Because babies don't stay babies. You, however, will be a grown woman for the rest of your days. And when baby is grown up and gone, you need to be comfortable and happy in your own skin. And you need a Life to Live while you're wearing it.
We hear a lot these days about Helicopter Parents who hover over their kids every move from the time they're born until - and even after! - they're married or in the work force. Hovering is bad news for kids, but it's even worse news for parents. Because one of these days that kid is going to get fed up with you buzzing around the perimeter of their lives and they'll swat you aside like the pesky creature you are.
And that will hurt everybody, but it will hurt YOU most of all.
The Mommy Track doesn't always seem like the Fast Track, but it really is. Those childhood days speed by faster than Helio Castraneves around the oval at Indianapolis. Give it all you've got, but start thinking about your exit strategy too.
Find meaningful ways to be and do and create that are just about you. You'll never forget how to be a mom. But you can forget how to be your own person, and that's something too valuable to let slip away.