I registered my baby for kindergarten this week. I sat in the school lobby, the familiar smell of school lunch, waxed gym floors, and tempera paint in the air, and waited for my turn. I had my file of forms and all of our residency documents in a folder on my lap. I looked down and realized I had a death grip on the folder.
I knew I was next in line to go to the registration desk and I didn’t want to let go of that folder. Once I let go, everything would change. My son would be officially a big kid and I’d be the mother of two elementary school children.
Their identities are changing. My identity is changing and I’m having a harder time accepting my changes than theirs. I love that they’re getting older. It means we’re able to do things we couldn’t do when they were little. There are more places to go, more things to see, I can show them more of my favorite movies, we can stay up later, they can start to leave me alone when I’m in the bathroom (maybe.) It still feels like a gut punch when I realize how big they are, and I’ll be crying through my baby’s “graduation” show next month, but I’m not lamenting the time that’s passed.
It’s harder to come to terms with how much my role has changed the past few months and it’s going to continue changing and evolving. I was laid off in March, and while I still freelance for the company a little here and there, I’m essentially unemployed. I’m now a “stay at home mom” and it’s taking some getting used to. My most important to-do list items have gone from preparing reports to picking up the dry cleaning.
I told myself I’d make the most of not having a job. We couldn’t afford daycare over the summer and we’re transferring next year, so I’d just keep looking for another telecommuting job and we’d take any “outside the home” jobs off of the table. I’d enjoy not having deadlines and task lists. I’d play with the kids more. I’d keep up with the cleaning and laundry. I’d go back to planning meals. I’d run more. And for the first month, I did. I would come home from school drop-off and do laundry or read or run. It was like a little vacation, I told myself. Enjoy it. Enjoy your kids.
And here I am, almost two months later and I’m getting restless. I don’t feel like myself anymore. I feel like I’m contributing less to my family, both financially and emotionally. A piece of my identity I was proud of is no longer there.
I should take a moment here to say that I know how incredibly lucky I am to be able to stay home with my kids, but please don’t make assumptions about our finances or situation.
Work gives me something that is mine. It doesn’t belong to my children or my family. I don’t have to share it. I can shut off my brain and focus on a list of tasks that have nothing to do with my family. Work allows me to converse with other adults about things other than school issues or soccer practice. It makes me feel like I’m contributing to my family in a tangible manner. I love the adrenaline rush of finishing a project at the last hour. I crave the workout my brain gets when trying to solve problems or come up with new ideas. I’m a better mother and wife when I’m working.
Without work in my life, I feel a little lost.
And when I was sitting in that school hallway, it hit me: come September, my house will be empty from 7-2, Monday through Friday. And it scared me. How will I fill those hours if I don’t go back to work before then? Will I find another job before then? Am I losing a piece of who I am by not working? Am I less of a mother because I need to work in order to be completely happy?
It’s so easy for others to throw the cliches at you “Your kids are only little once! Enjoy it! I wish I could stay home with mine! I’d give anything to go back and stay home with my kids!”, but it’s not as easy as all that.
Letting go is never easy.
But I had to let go. I had to turn in those forms. I had to let my son grow up and I had to let myself be ok with my life right now. My dream job may be right around the corner, or I may find myself still unemployed come September. Either way, I will be ok with wanting more, with needing more.
That’s the beauty of letting go: you just have to do it, fall back, and be ok with where you land.