I am not sure exactly when it happened. But I have, for sure, become an Older Mom.
I know this because I can recognize in myself the Older Moms from my early days on the job. They were, as I am now, 40- or 50-something, with children whose grown-up-sounding ages, when they mentioned them to my Young Mom self, seemed impossibly unattainable, and uncomfortably close to my own. I admired their experience, their perspective, their even-keeled detachment. But I was too busy trying to Keep It Together in the face of elaborate school projects, missing pacifiers, endless piles of laundry, and the persistent smell of throw up in the minivan, to muster anything beyond a polite smile as they cheerily urged me to “Enjoy it! Because it goes fast!”
I was sure, when they said this, that I must be doing it wrong. I often did not enjoy it and, truth be told, many days I was a little relieved to hear that it would not last forever. I even sometimes prayed in secret that it would go even faster, hurrying up already, until this one mastered potty training, this one got over an ear infection, or someone–for God’s sake, anyone–could put their coat on by themselves.
When I look at photos of my babies and toddlers, their impossibly young parents smiling at their sides, I am ashamed to admit that I can only vaguely remember those little people and the things we did together. It is as if they were neighbors, or distant relatives, from another time, maybe a few months or years, but not my daily companions for the duration of their youth, and what also looks like mine. I remember only in the way that you can remember things that have been gone for some time–that is, in a fuzzy, dreamlike kind of a way–the sound of their eager, high-pitched voices, the feel of their pudgy hands in mine, their gaze intent on my own as they await the answer to a question they are always certain I will know how to answer. Family movies include all of these precious details–there they are! at two, and four, and seven, their little haircuts straight across the backs of their necks, their movements and expressions earnest and sweet, the frequent and plaintive “Mommy”s which once threatened to drive me to distraction having disappeared along the way without notice. I know that they are gone forever. I cannot even watch.
In real time, the days felt maddeningly circular. Day-in, day-out routine which for years, included mostly the propelling of wooden trains – along with the requisite, appropriate sound effects –on endless loops of wooden tracks, a pleading “you go, Mommy” breaking my distracted consideration of whether this constituted a complete or only partial waste of my academic record and professional training. Little boys running laps, their tennis shoes slapping the floor of a tiny Cape Cod house unencumbered by pricey furniture we could not afford, and the increasingly-broken furnishings that we could. The midday stovetop stirring of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in the pan, round and round and round, until, to the helping children’s amazement, the desired effect had been achieved, the orange powder having disappeared completely into the milk. I sometimes felt, in this existence of concentric circles of routine and unpredictability, loneliness and constant chatter, supreme purpose and utter boredom, that I might be disappearing, too.
What the Older Moms had then, and what I have now is an understanding–in a way that is nearly impossible when you are in the thick of it–that everything is disappearing every day, that nothing is forever, nothing even lasts all that long, in the Older Mom scheme of things. That the days are long, but the years fly by. That even as you feel that you may lose your mind going round and round and round in circles, what is certain is that one day you will find, to your amazement, that it has all disappeared completely, into the milk.