Yesterday, for the first time in 10 years, all three of my children went to day camp. Feelings of terror and excitement flooded through me watching them climb the bus one at a time and disappear into the tall rows of forest green leather seats. My youngest is four and I wondered if he would be okay. I reassured myself the camp has a specific group for his age, with trained counselors. He will be fine. Then I went home and looked at the clock. It was only 9:00 a.m. and I would not return to the bus stop until 4:00 p.m. to pick them up. I had seven whole hours in front of me to fill.
I swear I heard birds chirping outside my window, I saw the sun shining (even though admittedly the clouds were a bit heavy that morning). I couldn’t wait to dig into my options: the jobs, projects, ideas, cleaning, organizing, shopping, writing, reading, napping, everything I had compiled on my “To-Do List” for the last ten years since my first child came into the world. Nothing has been done since that day. And now, it was time.
But where to start? The list is so long! I had not a second to waste and yet all I wanted to do was turn on my favorite show and sit with my coffee, not moving a muscle. I looked around at the few little piles of toys and clothes and dirty dishes, small enough not to feel messy, but enough in the corners to make our home feel cluttered. They have been sitting there in different shapes and ways but present somewhere for the last ten years.
Did it happen? I wondered to myself. Did the days of babies and diapers, sippy cups and tantrums, mama pick me up’s, naps and refusing to nap days finally pass me by? They said it would happen, people out in public, random strangers, older relatives, they all said it. At the grocery store with one kid on my leg, one screaming in the cart, while the third chants in a British accent, “We’re panicking! We’re panicking!” a well-intentioned stranger seeing the actual panic in my eyes as I darted through aisles grabbing random boxes off the shelves would cheerily say, always, “These days will go by fast!” I hated them saying it because I didn’t care. The days were long and hard. Parenting small children is like living in a fog of overwhelming joy, excruciating fear, and overall survival (yours and theirs). Yet, as they grow, the fog lifts little by little until one day you send them off for the whole day and you realize you can see again. The days did not go by fast, but they did, apparently, go by.
Now, here I am sitting by myself at my kitchen table in silence savoring a dreamy cup of coffee. I can see clearly for a few hours. Just as it was at the camp bus stop, it feels exciting and terrifying at the same time. It is a new era, having big kids. They have been little for so long, it’s all I’ve known, the thick time-consuming hands-on seconds of every day. They are dwindling, and while I will miss them, I honestly cannot wait for the next phase. The one where they keep getting on the school bus every day and I am left for a few beautiful hours to do the things I have set aside for the last ten years. I will never get those little years back. And while they have been messy and wholly disorganized, I know they have been beautifully lived with giggles and smiles and play days. They have been relaxed and lazy and adventurous. Creative, intuitive, and open to the world around them, my kids have hopefully learned among the piles and dust that life isn’t about being perfect. It is about spending time, not orchestrating time. Making things up on the fly, not scheduling days down to the minute. Life is about living in the moment, not worrying about how it looks to everyone else.
The camp is only one week. They will still come home at the end of each day and need me. I will be refreshed and ready. The next ten years will still be about raising these little rebels into responsible capable people, they are not on their own just yet. But for this week, I am happy to soak up the precious hours of quiet, and I might try to clean at least a little bit in between my coffee breaks. Truthfully, as much as I am reveling in the calm of their absence, I can’t wait for them to pile off the bus again and tell me everything they did while they were gone.