Lately I’ve been feeling more acutely the seasons of motherhood. It’s incredibly cliché to say, “Oh enjoy this season, it goes so fast.” In fact, when other people (usually elderly women) said that to me when I had newborns, I shifted between feelings of, ‘yes, it’s amazing,’ to feelings of, ‘I’ll punch the next person who tells me to enjoy this hell.’ The newborn stage is not my favorite, but when it’s gone, I miss it…and it truly is fleeting. With my last child, I have made a more diligent effort to stop wishing away my season… for every season. I try to appreciate the intricacies of each stage of motherhood making them more bearable and even more enjoyable. However, I have also noticed that with the increased joy comes more poignant loss when that sudden transition into the next season occurs.
I was a single mom for two years before marrying and inheriting a 9-year-old daughter. It was revealing to instantly go from toddler stage to pre-teen. I like to think of this season as spring because of my personal growth as a new step-mother. It was remarkable to learn so many nuances in my limited scope of single-parent-toddler-mothering. Navigating a life with an emotional 9-year-old and all the trials of a blended family, offered new buds on my proverbial tree every day… sometimes every minute. Looking back, so many things that I thought were unique to my particular 9-year-old and two-year-old, are more accurately described as that season. Now, with a 16, 9, 6, and 3-year-old, I can see that so many of the interactions between siblings and parents have less to do with the individuality of the child, than they do with that season. Of course, individual traits certainly impact the experience of that season, but their uniqueness doesn’t actually create the season. It is something that cannot be commanded; it is inevitable and our only choice is how we experience it. My first spring, I felt overwhelmed and inadequate, but the next time I had a 9 and 2-year-old I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I had forgotten about this season…. I remember now!’ It made some of the trials more manageable, and it forced me to hold a little tighter to the beautiful new blossoms I had missed the first time around.
Summer, for me, is the attractive stage when I still have a toddler (otherwise what would we do for entertainment?), but everyone else is moving into new stages of independence. Many of my friends insist that this is not summer at all. Instead, this is their winter with the needs and demands of toddler-hood, the daycare situation, the constant counting to three. Regardless of what we call it, talk about your season for more than three minutes with any seasoned mom, and she will be able to relate her own experience in that stage of motherhood. Once I realized this was my season, to more fully enjoy summer, I substituted, “I can’t wait until my baby is in school so I don’t have to find a sitter when I go to work anymore!” with, “Thank goodness it’s summer! It’s my favorite season and it’ll be over in a minute!” And then it is over. That’s the thing about seasons. They are transitory and no matter what anybody says, they are inescapable.
Fall has been my hardest season so far. I had children later than most of my village, so when my first baby went to school, many of my closest friends were sending their last babies to school. I didn’t understand that my mommy groups and play-dates and social circle would so drastically change. I didn’t understand how to enjoy fall when I felt like I had lost all my friends. I didn’t understand that those friends were in a different season… and it was just as inevitable and unstoppable as mine with the frequent diaper changes and heavy reliance on breast feeding groups. Suddenly, they were in winter, and they did not get refueled by commiserating with other mommies whose infants had kept them up all night. Instead, they needed the support and advice from other moms whose children were all in school and so, suddenly, they had to carve out a new identity. Do I go back to work? Do I spend tons of time volunteering in the classroom? Do I spend the next decade driving children and teenagers to their billion different extracurricular activities? I didn’t understand it then, but I didn’t have the answers they were seeking. I had not scratched the surface of curfews and Instagram parameters, and boyfriends, and puberty. They had left fall and moved on to winter (hardly an anomaly in Northern Nevada seasons). Though we stayed friends, our closeness shifted. It had to. You see, that is part of the season. They already understood that, but I didn’t. Of course friendships can withstand changing seasons, but they require more creativity, more investment, and more dedication (thank you Marco Polo!). So I mourned the loss of many of my friends, and then I learned how to move to my next season… without all of them. For me, it meant finding friends with younger children, younger friends, and creating new mommy groups for life support.
For my friends who entered winter, it meant mourning the loss of hand-print crafts and toddler kisses. Some went back to work; some created new alliances in their fresh season of life with liberties they hadn’t yet experienced in motherhood. Some felt an empty, hollow ache trying to stay in fall; attending playgroups without children; tearful and lost after 15 years of raising babies. Eventually, they had to head to winter…because as I’ve said, seasons are inevitable. We can’t stop them anymore than we can delay the first snow storm until we are ready. And yet, there is still so much to celebrate in this season… without winter, there would be no snowflakes or snowmen. We wouldn’t understand the feeling of a warm fire and hot cocoa heating us to our core. I’m grateful that winters start by sending our babies to school, particularly when I imagine the winters of my future when all my babies leave home. Though many friends celebrated the new found freedom of winter, it was also terribly lonely. Getting a sneak preview forced me to grip my children more tightly, snuggle their warm little bodies more frequently, and be grateful that arranging a complex and borderline OCD daycare schedule meant I still had little ones who had no idea that I didn’t hang the moon.
I am still in fall. Every time a friend sends their last baby to school and enters winter, I am shocked and devastated at the loss. We say, “It won’t happen to us! We are different!” Nevertheless, they slowly, imperceptibly disappear. I have not yet entered winter, so I cannot quite understand. I miss them, but I’m not wishing away my season. I love my life and my little ones, and my crazy juggling act schedule. In less than two years, I will be sending my baby to school, and I will finally enter winter, the season that has stolen so many of my friends. And then I will understand. Unless, of course, that doesn’t happen to me.