Last week my daughter and I were in the car on our way to her final swimming class for the summer. We were listening to some music on the radio and bouncing around a bit (we call it our car party), when my daughter all of a sudden stopped and said,
“You know what mom, I’ll really miss this in the mornings, now that I am going on a school bus.”
Every morning we would have a little celebration on the way to school. We played music, sang along, and danced around in our seats at the traffic lights. Frankly, the thirty minute morning drive was my favorite part of the day too. For the last two weeks I had been secretly mourning the fact that now my baby girl would spend mornings sitting on a school bus chatting with friends instead of giggling in my back seat.
“Me too sweetie.” I answered.
“But you know what, you will make lots of friends on the bus and it will give you time in the morning before school to hang out with them.”
My daughter paused for a bit, and thought about my answer.
“But what will you do mom?” she asked.
“Well, I guess I’ll just get started with my day. Working on my project, taking care of your brother, there are so many things to do – I’ll just start on them sooner.” I answered.
I sort of imagined the conversation would end there, but it took an interesting and vital twist.
“Mom, I have been thinking, I really wish you were just a mom.” She continued
“What do you mean when you say just a mom?” I inquired.
“Well, you know, just hang out with your kids, do kid stuff all day, that kind of thing.” She replied.
My internal “important moment alert” went off. You know those moments, when you know you are setting the stage for something vital – highlighting some aspect of your child’s life that will either clarify or confuse them, empower them or frighten them. I stopped and thought (literally, pulling over to the side of the road).
“Well honey, we all have things we are creating in our life, and family is there to support you to do those things. I mean I love spending my mornings with you, but I also know you will love being on the bus with your friends, and enjoying your time on your own with them. Just like you love going to swimming or riding your bike, or creating your art, I have things I love to do too. ” I answered.
“Like going to school, or starting this thing you are starting?” she asked.
“Yep, for me, all that stuff is really interesting and I feel great doing those things. But, my absolute most favorite things to do are things I do with you and your brother and daddy, but there are so many things I want to do also on my own. You know, sort of how I can’t go on your bus, but you still want to do that too.”
“Yeah, I get it. You are my favorite thing to do too mom. Maybe I can miss the bus on some days and we can have our car parties.” she continued.
“I would love that.” I answered, and meant it.
I started the car, and off we went to swimming again. I put the music back on and gave her a smile in the rear view mirror. She looked content. But inside of me, I began to feel slight pangs of guilt. I knew what she was asking. She wanted to know why I couldn’t be a mom whose entire existence revolved around her kids. And although everything in my being knew that this is not the only way a mom can create a healthy and meaningful life for her kids, I also knew that somewhere deep inside I still had the vestige of the “old world mom. ” On occasion I would have flashes of guilt as to why expressing myself did not come in the process of making pasta sauce for 3 hours, bleaching my kids sneakers so they would be perfectly white, and all this after ironing their sheets. I actually know moms who do this and love this. I am just not one of them.
As the guilt passed after a few seconds I remembered that one of the things that I want my kids to know most, is that each human needs to be self expressed – however that might look. For some women this looks like ironing bed sheets, and arranging coupons, for others it might be juggling full time jobs and for some it might look like painting canvases late into the night. But at the end of the day, we all need to find and claim our happiness and live in a state of total self-expression, only then can we parent consciously without battling our inner demons.
This is ultimately the art of modern motherhood – the delicate balance between creating a sacred space with your children, while honoring the sacred space within your self (and your marriage). The balancing act is in every moment, it is a sum of many parts. It is the art and science of “micromomming.” It is what happens over breakfast, at the morning car ride to soccer, during the kids bath – it is who were are in the moments, and not in our titles. It is pausing life to answer their questions in thoughtful way.
We arrived at swim practice and I watched her swim laps across the pool (puppy style). She was so proud of herself. I adored seeing that. I clapped and stood up as she made her way across the pool and she smiled back at me and gestured for me to be quiet. This was one of those moments, I was here and I would honor her and this experience in the fullest way I could, even if she will later complain (with a hidden pride) of how much I embarrassed her, again.