Too Easy, Too Soon

April 19, 2009 | 13 comments
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This morning I woke up to find my youngest child wearing accurately-buttoned church clothes and eating a hot breakfast that he had made without help. He might as well have handed me a pink slip.

(This is not to say that my mothering duties are done; later in the morning, I had to disabuse him of the older-brother-derived notion that “dim” means “smart” as he went around the house chanting “I’m dim, I’m dim!”)

I am amazed at the speed with which I’ve gone from body servant to bystander. They make their own meals, wash their own clothes, buckle their own seat belts, and–the one I’m most conflicted about–find their own fun. Right now, all three are on an entirely different level of the house, behind a closed door, surrounded by Legos and Harry Potter on CD. I can just barely hear the CD, only when the narrator’s tone deepens.

I am so not ready to leave the stage of having young children. (I can’t believe I said that. When I had babies, my primary motivation for getting out of bed in the morning was that I now faced one less day when I would have to get up to mother a baby.) And I’m not: we’re fighting it. I’m so not ready that even though nature isn’t cooperating, we’re seriously considering other options. So I console myself with the knowledge that I’m currently in–not a new stage–but a brief respite, and I should be enjoying it. I’m trying to. But even if everything works out as we hope it will and we’re able to add another child or two (or three?), I’m just delaying the inevitable: it will only be another half decade or so and then no one will need my fingers to do the buttons. What will I do then?

I can vividly remember–of course I can vividly remember: it was only months ago!–when homeschooling meant arms full of baby and attention jerkily divided between a toddler’s block tower and a child’s math book. It was hard. Now, much of homeschooling finds me at the laptop, checking craigslist to see if I can find the rug I knew in the preexistence, while two kids independently do their math and one practices drawing with an Ed Emberly book. It is an entirely different kind of hard.

An objective observer might suggest that this would be the ideal time to do something about the two-year-old accumulations of dust at the corners of each stair in my house. (Not to mention the yard. Please don’t mention the yard.) An objective observer apparently doesn’t know me very well.

I guess the downside of cramming your outside interests into the interstices of the years when you have tiny children is that when your children are no longer tiny, you are not sure what to do with the yawning savannahs that stretch before you.

13 Responses to Too Easy, Too Soon

  1. Karen on April 19, 2009 at 11:22 am

    I think I understand where you are coming from. I’m feeling a little bit that way myself right now. The difference is that I have spent so many years (22) in the baby stage, and now that my youngest is three (with no more planned) I am also feeling-
    “not sure what to do with the yawning savannahs that stretch before you”.

    What to do now?(and in the future) is one of the main questions I’ve been asking myself lately.

  2. Naismith on April 19, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Don’t you love Jim Dale as a narrator?

    I don’t homeschool per se, but I consider that the public schools provide only a small part of my children’s education. So I invest a lot of effort in arranging field trips. We have spent a week in New York, several trips to Washington DC, a week in Philadelphia, and so on. When the older kids were in college, and I hope to repeat that with the younger ones, it was a week in Paris and a week in London in various years.

    The trip to Philadelphia was timed for the spring one daughter was preparing for the AP American History exam. We spent a full morning in the lovely Civil War museum, and a long afternoon at the constitution center, as well as Ben Franklins home, Independence Hall, etc. She got a 5. My daughter was taking art history the spring we went to the British Museum and she said it was so cool to have seen the originals when she was asked about things on a test.

    So if yours are easy to travel with–and it sounds like they would be great– I would definitely use this season for that kind of thing.

    And of course there will be all kinds of other things to do once your current job is over.

  3. Amira on April 19, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    With an unplanned 7-year gap between our second and third sons, I should know where you’re coming from. But I have to admit that I loved the freedom of not having a really little one for a few years. I love (and I mean *love*) having a one-year-old around again, but life was easier when there were just two boys who were 6 and 8. I think all four of us miss those times a bit, especially because we could do things like Naismith writes about. I also don’t know if I could have gone to Kyrgyzstan if we’d had any more than those two children, and that was one of the best things we ever did.

    And Julie, I’m just a little surprised you feel this way!

  4. Alison Moore Smith on April 19, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    Julie, I feel your joy and your pain!

    My “baby” is now five and it just kills me. We went to a big park last week and it was the first time in 22 years that I have been at such a place without the absolute need to follow at least one child resolutely through every obstacle. I stood there thinking, “Weird. I could just go sit down and read and no one would know!” But I went to the tire swing instead.

    But there is another side to that story, at least for us! I don’t know how old your kids are, bu in my case the responsible mature tweens that I was raising suddenly regressed when they hit puberty.

    My kids start buckling up at about two and a half–as soon as they can master the clips in the car seat. But my fifteen-year-olds can’t for the life of them seem to figure it out.

    Selective incompetence rules. Fortunately–and not!–they grow out of that phase, too.

  5. Julie M. Smith on April 19, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    “And Julie, I’m just a little surprised you feel this way!”

    Me, too.

  6. Sterling Fluharty on April 19, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Maybe your feelings are more divine than you realize. After all, our heavenly parents raised us once and then sent us here so that they could raise us again.

  7. Idahospud on April 19, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    Does this mean you are going to learn Hebrew now, and write another book??? I told you I was going to bug you until I had the book in my hands.

  8. Bruce Crow on April 19, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    My youngest is now 6 and I feel your pain/joy. But not in the same way my wife does. Instead of helping him button clothes, I help him catch tadpoles, paint raingutter regatta boats, and build campfires. It gets harder to provide them with fun, but I can still do it. Now my 13 year old daughter [sigh] that is another matter.

  9. Amy on April 19, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    Oh Julie, I don’t even know you, and yet I feel I can totally identify with this. I have been really struggling with this the past little while. I know that I will have a great future as my kids grow up, I know I will explore talents, discover the world and all will be well…but I just cannot seem to say good bye to this season of my life. I am in disbelief that it could be close to over.

    We only have three children, and (don’t laugh at me) my youngest is only 6 months…but as he is 5 years younger than my other two I know all too well how fast it goes. I keep hearing others say they just “knew” that they were done. I do not have that feeling. And I am trying to decide, is this because I am not done, or because I am having trouble moving on?

    I live in Florida, and three children is tolerated, but any more and you are certifiable. I have had my share of, “was this an accident?” “you’re done now, right?” “now that you have a boy, you’re done?”

  10. Rosalynde Welch on April 19, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Julie, I loved reading this. I know I’ll feel the same way four years from now, and it’s good for me to remember that while I’m wandering in my post-partum wilderness. I am already dreading the emptiness of no baby in the house, at the same time that I’m desperately wishing away my two-month-old’s next few months. Yes, I am crazy. At least I’m clear on that point!

  11. Rameumptom on April 20, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Julie,

    There comes a time when every parent must let go of the apron strings and move on. You have now hit a new stage of life, much like receiving your high school diploma and then thinking, “now what?”
    You need to consider looking forward, and not backwards. How else do you expect to grow, unless you experience the growing pains that come with the changes?

  12. Craig H. on April 20, 2009 at 9:46 am

    It doesn’t get any easier when they’re older and they leave for good. When they’re home in the summer from school I grow weary of the late nights and small clashes, etc., then when they’re gone again I can’t believe how badly I miss them and yes how I feel like I’ve lost some purpose. So, in answer to the implied question, how to deal with this, I’m not sure I know. Not as well as the well-named Rameumpton anyway. To me it just keeps happening over and over, if in different forms.

  13. Liz on April 20, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Julie, I always assumed that this was part of why people homeschooled. The kids grew older and eventually mom “promoted” herself to a different, equally time-consuming job. I have little kids and don’t know any active homeschoolers so I may be way off the mark. As you know there are lots of ways you could fill empty hours, if you had them (write a book, or volunteer, find part-time employment). But it sounds like that’s not the kind of work you want to do right now, and the empty space in your life you’re confronting is indisputably baby-shaped.

    Best of luck to you, and much sympathy.