Mother's Day: Childhood milestones aren’t motherhood's tombstones
Mother's Day: A mom with a daughter headed off to college thinks about the long days and short years of motherhood. Marking childhood milestones as new phases for everyone makes means they are not tombstones of motherhood that ends when kids go away.
My colleague KJ Dell’Antonia, editor of The New York Times parenting blog Motherlode, pointed out in a recent post that there are 940 Saturdays between the time your child is born and the time she turns 18. KJ’s calculation comes from Harley Rotbart, a parent, a pediatrician and author of a wise book called No Regrets Parenting.
The days of early parenthood are long and chaotic and exhausting. Sometimes those days lead into nights that are puzzling or downright scary. I still remember the times when Anna or Adam’s cries broke through the scrim of night or light sleep. Ken and I felt helpless as we asked each other the same question over and over: What do you think is wrong with her?
“I don’t know,” the other would say. “What do you think is wrong with her?”
There’s an old chestnut that says the very definition of insanity is repeatedly asking the same question, but expecting a different answer. The truth is there was no answer. We never found out why our babies cried. We never understood why Adam’s colic descended like the darkest cloud and then lifted just as suddenly five months – yes, five months – later.
As the mother of an almost 18- year-old who has an exact date for when she starts her first year of college, I’ve put aside Dr. Rotbart’s calculations. I simply pretend that time is still on my side.
But then the finite amount of time I have with my children took center stage last week when I heard my rabbi, Michelle Robinson, sermonize about the Omer and parenting. The Omer literally means to count and that’s what’s done during the 49-day period between Passover and Shavuot. The Omer originally staked out the time during which wheat was harvested and counted in preparation for a sacrifice at the Temple. Save for the Western Wall, the Temple is long gone. But Talmudic Judaism still observes the Omer by ticking off the days between the holidays.
Counting the Omer was not the only thing on Rabbi Robinson’s mind when she delivered her sermon. Like KJ, she too had just read “No Regrets Parenting.” As the mother of three children, she was deeply impressed with Rotbart’s approach to mindful parenting and his wisdom that although the days are long with young children, the years are short.
Robinson’s sermon then pointed me to my friend Aliza Kline’s recent blog post about Omer. Aliza is the founding executive director of Mayyim Hayyim and has been instrumental in bringing the ancient ritual of immersing in the mikveh into the 21st century. She and her family have been on an “extraordinary” sabbatical in Israel this past year, which is coming to an end next month. But instead of counting down the days until she leaves Israel, Aliza is counting up the days just as the Israelites counted up to the day they received the Torah. Aliza astutely writes:
"It’s an interesting idea to count up. Rather than thinking about all that we have to do before a deadline we can focus on all that we get to do once we’ve reached that momentous day. Counting also provides that helpful reminder to be mindful of each day, to be aware of time passing. To be 'present' regardless of whether the day or hour or minute brings joy or sorrow."
So between now and mid-July, when Anna turns 18, and then four weeks later when she sets foot for the first time on a college campus as a matriculated student, I need to count up. I hope that counting up will help me to distinguish that the milestones of Anna’s life are not the tombstones of my parenthood. I will try not to think of what I’m losing, but what I am gaining by sending my girl off to school.
First and foremost, Ken and I are giving our daughter one of life’s most vital resources – an education. As my mother used to say, no one can take your education away from you. My mother was all about independence for her daughters. She went back to school for a teaching degree when I was 5 and never looked back. A few years later, after she landed her first full-time job, she opened her own checking account and contributed significantly to her three children’s college tuitions.
Maybe this next phase of our family life will be as exciting for me as it will certainly be for Anna. After all, I won’t have to drive the 15-mile round trip to her school when she forgets her soccer cleats. I won’t have to look at the messiest room in town every day. But I know I’ll get weepy when I see the return of that sloppy wasteland because it means Anna’s in residence.
I envy KJ, Michelle and Aliza for the hundreds of Saturdays still ahead of them with their kids. As for me, I have 11 Saturdays until Anna turns 18 and 15 Saturdays until she leaves for college.
But who’s counting?