January 22, 2019
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The motherhood ‘first’ that feels too much like a ‘last’

Sarah Smiley | BDN
Sarah Smiley | BDN
Sarah Smiley

Motherhood brings many surprises and “firsts.” It seems like just as soon as we get a handle on the job, something new pops up, and we ask, “Why didn’t anyone warn me about this?” — a phrase you’ve undoubtedly heard mothers say before.

By now, most of what to expect in the infant and toddler years has been thoroughly covered in books and blogs. The later years, however, remain an enigma. And if you heard a scream echo throughout the state late in the afternoon last Tuesday, it was because I had just encountered another one of those surprises, something no one had told me about before, and it crushed my heart like a swatter on a house fly (to put it mildly).

You’d think I’d be used to all of this by now.

More than 17 years ago, I was first alarmed (despite everything I’d read in the pregnancy books) by the state of my body while I was pregnant. No one is ever ready for a baby kicking through your stomach like someone trapped in a paper bag. Still, even that couldn’t compare to holding my baby for the first time and then having the nurse tell us it was time to go home, to do this mothering thing alone, without the help of highly trained medical professionals.

I was surprised again when my baby began to walk and talk and tell me “no.” For so long they are an extension of yourself. They go where you go. They sit where you place them. They smile because you entered the room. And then suddenly, they have thoughts and opinions and, most important, feet capable of running away.

Six years later, I was surprised when my son got on a bus, headed for kindergarten, and I could not even see the top of his head through the windows when he sat down. Then the bus started to drive away, and he propped himself up just long enough to peer out at me with big, teary brown eyes. My heart never recovered.

Some time later, I was not prepared for the first sleepovers or nights when I could not tuck my children in. New freckles and lines grew on what was once a blank slate of skin on a child I knew every inch of. A head of wispy baby hair turned to coarse boy hair with cowlicks on the sides.

And then middle school. Oh boy, no one prepares you for middle school. In middle school, parents don’t go into the school to help the teacher cut out letters or make bulletin boards. Girl peers start to look more mature, and you notice this as your little boy with the gigantic backpack walks to the front doors for the first day of school.

I wasn’t ready for the friends I didn’t know, friends whose parents I didn’t know, and homework that was finished and packed away before I ever saw it.

I wasn’t prepared when my son’s voice started to sound like a man, when a mustache grew on his lip, or when he outgrew the children’s department at Old Navy.

I was stunned the day my son came home and it was clear he liked a girl.

I was not ready the first time he drove me onto the interstate.

I cried on his first day of high school.

I couldn’t believe it when a college sent a brochure addressed to his name only.

But nothing — none of the above — came even close to preparing me in any way for what happened last Tuesday afternoon.

I was sitting at my desk, happily working and ignoring email notifications that popped up in the background, until one came from the school department. The subject line: “2018-2019 School Calendar.”

Of course, I knew this was coming. I’ve kept a mental list in my mind — “This is one of the last year’s he’ll be home for [family activity/holiday/event]” — but I never dared to utter the words aloud or make them real in any way. There was nothing in black and white. There was no real timeline. It was just a creeping sense of agony and sadness that I had kept to myself.

And then I opened that email. In it, the superintendent outlined next year’s school vacations and important dates, including, high school graduation.

My son, now a junior, will graduate on June 16 next year.

I put my hands to my cheeks and screamed. People nearby were alarmed. One of them who has young children told me to relax. She has no idea. Not yet. And telling her won’t make her more prepared either. I’ve know that. Every mom knows that.

And still, someone is reading this and thinking, “Oh, but Sarah, just wait until this next mothering milestone!”

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