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The bittersweet of back to school
As kids of all ages head back to school, moms are left facing the question: Who am I once my babies are gone? - photo by Erin Stewart
I always knew this day would come.

Well, I guess I knew it in a mostly hypothetical sense because when I would say things like, One day when all my kids are in school I meant it the same way you would say, If I win the lottery or Ill read that book when I get some free time.

You know, something that could technically happen but no one ever expects to occur in real life. The day all my kids would be in school was always more like a myth some far-off land in some far-off time that was future mes issue.

And yet the day is here. My 5-year-old daughter will start kindergarten this week, and I am writing a strongly worded letter to whoever is in charge of the time-warp shenanigans that got me to the moment where both my children are in school. This day wasnt really ever supposed to come.

In case you cant tell, Im not ready.

Mothers around America are sending kids off to school this week, and I guarantee many of them are having a mini-crisis just like me. Yes, many of them are doing cartwheels at the bus stop. But for many of us, back-to-school week is bittersweet. We want our kids to progress and move forward with their lives; thats the whole goal of motherhood. But watching our kids walk away to kindergarten or move into their freshman dorm room marks a milestone that makes us pause and look at our lives the reality of where we are and the illusion of where we thought we might be.

For me, having my baby start kindergarten is a milestone I didnt think I would hit so early in life. Ive written before about my pregnancy health troubles that have led us to adoption to grow our family. But that road has been bumpy. After several scams and one failed adoption, we are still waiting to find our child.

And while we wait, life keeps moving. Time keeps plowing ahead with no regard for me or my plans or the fact that according to my life master calendar, I was supposed to have more babies at home by the time my 5-year-old started school. Time doesnt care at all that a very sweet and wonderful chapter in my life is closing prematurely. Time just keeps on ticking along, forcing me to face the question: If everyone is moving on, where does that leave me?

I guess thats the hardest part of watching my kids move on to the next stage in their lives: I have to move on, too. As mothers, we have to constantly reinvent ourselves as we grow and change alongside our children. We move with them, morphing from the young mother with a baby in her arms to the empty nester in what seems like the blink of an eye.

I would swear I was nursing my daughter just yesterday. So how in the world could I be watching her walk into a kindergarten classroom this week? Before I know it, Ill be sitting in the passenger seat as a 16-year-old version of my daughter takes the wheel, and then in a nanosecond, Ill be watching her grow small in my rearview mirror as I drop her off at her college dorm room. With every new stage, I will have to rediscover who I am as her mother and as a woman.

So as my baby heads to kindergarten this week, I know I will be a mess. There will be a scene that will definitely include tears, possibly include audible crying and just maybe include me lurking creepily outside the kindergarten window for a bit.

I will leave eventually. (I promise!) I will go home to an empty house and look around. I will probably panic and allow myself a few minutes of complete and shameless pity as I decide my life is over. I will proceed to eat my feelings in the form of ice cream or raw cookie dough, and then I may even break into a very poignant version of Sunrise, Sunset from "Fiddler on the Roof." It will be spectacularly sad on many levels.

But then, I will pull myself together.

I will tell myself that I am still just as much a mother with all my kids in school as I was with babies in my arms and toddlers hanging on my legs. I will remember that my children still need me, just in different ways. And they will continue to need me, whether its in three hours when I pick up my baby at school or in 10 years when they come home from college and want me to wash their laundry.

Yes, time will keep speeding along with little regard to my wishes and schedule. And while time can change many things, it cant change the fact that I will always be their mother and they will never stop being my babies.
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