At 49 with three kids ages 16, 13 and 10, I feel like a monkey in the middle.
Some of my friends have kids that are much older than mine. Babies that I bought shower and first birthday gifts for so many years ago, are finishing college or well into their careers.
I also have some friends with children still in diapers.
I’ve found in my mom friends and in myself, that once our children master a new stage in life, we tend to downplay, even forget, just how hard the previous stage was.
We tell our friends with new babies that they may think they have it hard now, but just wait till junior starts walking.
Yes, it’s hard to put your five-year-old on the bus to kindergarten, but it can’t compare to watching them go off to middle school, high school, or college.
When my oldest, Tom, started school, I found some great friends that not only had a kid in Tom’s grade, but had older children as well. While they were at school events sipping Starbucks, I was pushing Peter in a stroller and panicking about getting home in time to pick up Lizzy from preschool.
I might feel a tinge of jealousy as I declined their offer to go to lunch because I had to get a little one down for a nap, but I also loved having friends that had already been through the grade school years. I found their advice and support a real life saver.
My friend Mallory has been particularly helpful. She served as my personal guide to all things school related since we met ten years ago when our boys started first grade. At the time her oldest was just starting middle school.
I would listen intently to stories about class selections and the pros and cons of honor classes while I would give baby Peter a bottle.
When it was time for Tom and her son Zach to start middle school five years ago, I relied heavily on Mallory's experience. She’d been through this big transition once, and she would reassure me that the boys would be fine. Since she was now knee deep in high school and was planning trips to look at colleges, she was the pro and I was her willing apprentice.
I was a wreck.
Not only was Tom starting middle school, but Peter, my baby, was starting all day kindergarten.
I don’t easily cry, but I got weepy any time I thought about the fact that all three of my kids would be in school now.
That entire summer Mallory would tell me to pull myself together. She would remind me of the good times that were coming, the lunches and shopping trips that we would finally get to take. I’m sure she was also looking forward to being able to have a phone conversation with me that didn’t include me stopping in mid sentence to tell Peter that, no he could not have cookies for breakfast or to stop climbing on the top bunk bed if he couldn’t climb down.
Truth be told, so was I.
As the first day of middle school got closer, it was decided that Mallory would take the boys to school.
Tom didn’t want me to start crying when he walked out of the car, and he was terrified that I would do something like call out, I love you or I’m proud of you, in front of all his friends.
That morning we all met at Dunkin Donuts. The boys were so excited about what lay ahead for them. I did my best to be strong and not think about the fact my first baby was going off to middle school, while my last baby would be leaving me for a whole day of kindergarten in two more days.
Mallory gave me a look that said cool it on the emotion, so I just wished both boys a great day and got back in my car. I didn’t even pass by the school.
About twenty minutes later, she called me, hysterically crying.
“I couldn’t help it. I saw the two of them get out of the car and start walking, and I just started to tear up. Then I yelled out, “Good luck boys. I love you Zach. And I love you too Tom.”
We both started laughing at how her nerves of steel had completely shattered.
When I picked up Tom after school, he got in the car and said, “Do you know what Mallory did? She was crying and called out to Zach that she loved him. Then, she said she loved me too. Mom if I wanted that I would have had you drive me.”
I think of this story each time I’m tempted to tell one of my friends that they’ll be just fine when their little one starts their first day of preschool or kindergarten. Or when I tell myself that I’m being silly when Peter packs up his stuffed animals or when I feel a little sad that Lizzy is no longer into her American Girl dolls.
Parenting is such an all encompassing job. Each stage feels monumental because it is. It’s amazing to see our children grow up — It’s what our job is all about. But each new step they take in their lives, whether it’s eating with a fork or going off to college is one more step away from us. I think that deserves a tear or two.
My one piece of advice to parents this fall, stock up on the good tissues.
A version of this piece was previously published on Kathy's blog My dishwasher's possessed!