I raised my family. I gave up a job I hated, in a field that repulsed me, with a degree I found useless, to raise my family. It is a decision I have never regretted. I spent 20 years happily taking care of my husband (most of the time), keeping the cleanest house on the block (actually, probably the cleanest house in the entire town) and spending every minute with my kids.
They were good years. When the kids were little, I loved every season and the opportunities they brought for outdoor fun with my kids. Even rainy days were fun, when we did art projects together, or curled up on the couch with a good Disney movie. Summer brought numerous camping trips, with hikes in the woods, days on the beach at Lake Michigan, sleeping in tents and cooking over an open fire. One of my favorite memories is sitting around the campfire at night with the kids when they were very young, reading to them out loud stories from the "Legend" series of children's books. The Legend of Sleeping Bear, The Legend of the Loon, great stories that garnered my children's rapt attention. Last week, while I was cleaning out my college sophomore's room as he moved into an apartment, I asked him what things in his closets did he want me to keep for him until he had his own house. Max immediately pointed to the Legend books. It made me smile, because I wasn't sure how much of those days my kids remember.
Fall was for exploring in our backyard. Making collages out of colorful leaves, watching squirrels prepare for winter, seeing the changes in the deer hides, all were wonderful opportunities to teach my kids about the natural world. Winter, of course, meant ice skating, building snow forts, snowmobiling on the jr. sized machines my husband bought, and skiing. We all find it funny that I taught my kids how to ski, by skiing down the hill with them between my knees, since my husband is the accomplished skier of the family and I am not. I tend to break bones (mine and other skiers) when I ski.
In the Spring, we would plant seeds, water them every day, and watch things grow. We built and painted bird houses to see baby birds take their first flight. We cleaned out our closets together, held garage sales, and spent days going to parks and museums.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to the woods. The kids started growing up. Suddenly, my days of teaching kids about life and nature were replaced with…hockey. We no longer woke up early on summer mornings to water the flowers together; instead we woke up even earlier to drive on the highway to Chelsea for summer hockey training. The rest of the year, our lives revolved around hockey. My husband, Steve, changed jobs, had more time for us, and became Max's hockey coach. I was the reluctant manager. Every weekend, and many school nights, we loaded up the Suburban and drove to far away rinks for games. We sat in Sport's Bars eating crappy food between games. We were not outside, we lived in hockey rinks. Then my daughter, Keely, discovered horses, and when we weren't at rinks, we were in the ring. At least with the horse thing, I was outside and at a farm, but still we spent much of our time in the car driving to and from the farm.
Max and Keely's childhood moved at lightening speed, while I quietly despaired over their increasing lack of interest in my world, a world of quiet walks in the woods and a fascination with the nature that surrounds us, as they fully embraced Steve's world of sports and social events and community service. Now Steve was taking them on the annual ski trip and I stayed home, tired of being laughed at on the slopes. I took on a seasonal job in the summers, and I worked so much that camping was out of the question. Max also worked there, I brought the girls with me, but everything had changed and I missed those days of raising my children, when they thought I was so smart and cool, and they were eager to learn what I could teach.
So I went through a period of time, when Max and Keely became teenagers, feeling that I wasn't as necessary as their mom. Which led me to think about who I am apart from being their mom. I got nuthin'.
But sometimes, life has a way of catching up with us.
This summer, I began to see a reversal, of sorts. Max asked me if he could take my vintage Airstream on a camping trip with friends. I said no, because nobody touches my Twinkie, but I was delighted that he wanted to take his friends camping. Maybe someday, Max will buy an old tin can and fix it up for his family, and teach his kids how to camp. Keely went on two trips with me this summer, to Michigan's U.P., and she slept in a tent willingly. She's more outdoorsy than she will admit. She is a Cross Country runner, and while she never speaks of it, I know she gets it; the feeling of running through the woods in the early morning, dew soaking her shoes and silence filling her mind.
Max and Keely don't remember the details of their early childhood. Sometimes they will see an old photo and say "Oh yeah, I remember that" but mostly they do not reminisce about those days of hanging out with mom, every minute of every day, or the bond we had then. But maybe, just maybe, I can start to believe that those days really did help shape them, that some remnant of their memory makes them want the same things someday, when they have their own families. Perhaps they will grow, as adults, to be a little bit like me even as they are a lot like their dad.
The good news is, I still have an 11 year old at home. Nina is my buddy, and she doesn't realize it yet, but I have seen the future, and I will be clinging to her childhood far longer than I should. I will hold every moment with her as precious, now that I know she, too, will grow up and not need me so much. I look at her and want her to always stay little, until I look at her big brother and sister and realize that Nina will eventually come full circle like they did. For a time, my kids had to branch out and become independent, but then they circle back to their beginnings. It's all good, it all leads to the final outcome of my children being the best of me and Steve while being the best they can be on their own.
As Nina is growing up, I now have the wonderful option of growing up myself. Each year I have a little more time to start remembering who I really am. In seven years, Nina will graduate from High School. I now understand that the time will fly by way too quickly. So I have seven years to practice who I am going to be when I am no longer just a mom, when I will have the time to start a career and be defined by what I do apart from raising my kids. I'm thinking about writing children's stories, or perhaps the Great American Novel that changes the way society thinks about mothers.
I have really liked just being a mom. Unfortunately, my kids will not cooperate by staying home and needing me forever. Hopefully, when Nina graduates, Max and Keely will have given me…GRANDCHILDREN!!!!! Then I can start all over again!