Today marked the very last official school-free Wednesday for Harlow. After a month of mid-week days off since her school adventures began, it’s full time school from here on.
I expected to cry on her first day. I’m not entirely sure why because I certainly didn’t when either of the boys began school but I wondered whether maybe sending my last child – my baby! – off to school might crack open a little well of bittersweet. But no, I was as dry-eyed as ever and frankly, a little irritated when she clung fiercely to Daddy’s neck when we tried to leave. We had a kid-free coffee date to get to damn it!
But just like her brothers before her – and apart from the dramatic neck hug – Harlow was so excited to be starting school. She didn’t cry. She was just ready.
And so was I.
For ten years, I have been ‘Mum.’ I have been home with kids for an entire decade. An absolute privilege, yes, but also a marathon of endurance and a whole lot of putting other aspects of my life on hold. I have slowly but surely been working towards a new career in writing during those ten years but I always found the juggle to be intense with very small kids to care for. Other women are exceptionally good with this juggle. Not me. Only now, with all three kids in school full-time, can I see a clear path forward with my career. Only now am I able to carve out the time I need to work – really work – on freelance writing projects. I am focused. I am managing my time more effectively. I am all alone for 6 hours of the day. And I really, really like it!
So what does that say about me as a mum?
It seems there are two camps that mums get split into when their kids head off to school. There’s the mum who hides behind sunglasses because she can’t stop crying at the thought of her precious little one as a big school kid. And then there’s the mum who leaves a trail of dust in her wake as she runs – RUNS! – in the opposite direction after school drop-off.
Do you see my dust?
If you reside in my camp where school drop-off equals freedom and those 6 hours are never long enough, then you might be feeling a gnawing sense of guilt. Does this mean we’re not as maternal as the crying mum? Are we cold and dead inside? A shop assistant at the local supermarket asked me if I was missing Harlow and I just didn’t understand her question. By the time I grocery shop, run errands, prepare food and maybe clean something in my home (it could happen), I have three, maybe four hours to actually WRITE anything before I need to be back at school collecting the kids. Where does one fit in ‘missing’? There is no time in my schedule for this ‘missing.’
Not only is the list of things I have to do a fucking long one but I have an equally long list of things I WANT to do. Stuff that is not compatible with tag-along kids or things that are just so much better without them. Like sitting in a café having a coffee. Like browsing the shelves at the library, seeing a movie or GOING TO THE TOILET. My goodness, there are so many wonderful things to do alone. I can’t imagine a time when I’ll run out of things to fill my time with. And added to that, I have a growing list of freelance work and a recent promotion to do some editing for another company. I am BUSY. Genuinely busy but in the best possible way. I LOVE working again. It has changed how I feel about myself and really how I feel about my life. I feel like a whole person again and it’s SO WEIRD and SO GREAT.
My kids are happy at school. They are growing and thriving and now I feel as though I am, too. And that makes me so much more present and available to them when I pick them up at the end of the school day. It normally only takes them about 3 minutes to start fighting and whining and getting on my nerves again but after a day spent being productive and creative, my god, I am so much better equipped to handle it.
On the flipside is the mum who genuinely misses her kid when they’re at school. She has pangs every time they enter those big, scary gates of independence. I know she is lamenting how quickly the years have passed. And they certainly do fly. But sometimes this reluctance to move on to the next stage also garners judgement. In the same way that the mum who doesn’t look back is seen as cold, the mum who finds it difficult to let go is seen as a bit dull. Doesn’t she have her own life? Interests and ambitions? Living vicariously through your kids is kind of sad…isn’t it? But you know what? I have always envied the mum that genuinely seemed to like hanging out with her kids 24/7. I wished that the simple joys of raising children could be enough for me – but I suspected I was just too selfish. Or impatient. Or cold. Does the mum crying at the school gates love her kids more than I love mine?
The truth is that motherhood is an emotional journey and we all experience it a little differently. We all want what is best for our kids and to be the best mum we can be – and that might mean different things to different women. For me, I am the best mum I can be when I am filling up my creative well enough to sustain me through what, if I am perfectly honest, are the exhausting and sometimes mind-numbing challenges of motherhood in suburbia. I need more and I think that’s okay. I also think it’s okay for my kids to see me as a person who wants and needs things rather than just as their mum/personal chef/maid/chauffeur. I don’t live only for them but everything I do comes back to creating the best life for our family. Other mums will do things in other ways but as long as they feel fulfilled and their kids are happy and healthy, then it really has nothing to do with me.
And you know what? I suspect most of us fall somewhere in the middle – caught in between wanting our kids to grow the fuck up and also stay our babies forever. When Harlow finished 4-year-old kinder last year, I cried my heart out. There she was in her reindeer ears singing Christmas carols and there I was, weeping hysterically because something was ending. Those years with very small children are now behind me and I grieved for them. They were long and crazy-making and they’ve changed me forever. My heart is so full with the memories we made.
But now it’s time for our next adventure.