It occurred to me recently that I am the recipient of a rare second chance.
I say this because I’m reliving the childhoods of my two oldest boys, Jack and Flin — who are away at college — through my three youngest children. When Jack and Flin were students at George Washington Middle School, I was a crazed mother with five children in four different grades, from kindergarten to seventh. My ability to appreciate the humor, anxiety and lives of middle schoolers was nil.
If I am honest with myself, I do not remember much of those days. Life was a whirlwind of activity — laundry, driving and general chaos. I suspect I have either deleted the memories from my brain or, more likely, these memories never made it into my brain’s storage space.
As I relive those days with different, yet eerily similar children, I find myself struggling to recall Flin’s band performances or Jack’s lacrosse games, how I drove the many carpools or fixed the pounds of pasta that so often served as dinner. I am often amazed when one of the older boys says, “Mom, do you remember?” and absolutely nothing pops into my mind.
I also am thankful that they do not call me on the carpet for having no memory. Instead, they retell the story as if they are talking to their grandparents or someone who did not live the moment.
I miss Jack and Flin terribly, most likely because I realize my time of intensely parenting them is over. Occasionally, when telling a new friend or acquaintance about my kids, I get choked up explaining the “big boys” are in college. I can feel the tears welling up as I talk about Flin at Clemson and Jack at Ole Miss more times than I care to acknowledge. The two are far enough away to make my heart hurt.
I know I am struggling to figure out what my new role as mother of only three at-home kids means. This struggle is not solely mine, though. All seven of us have suddenly been forced into new roles and challenges as a family. For the first time, the youngest three — Mimi, Davis and Hews — are on my radar 24/7. And what a radar that is.
Clearly, nothing can be worse for a teenage girl than to be the focus of her mother’s attention. Having escaped my watchful eyes more than once during her 15 years, Mimi and I knock heads on a host of common issues. She is smart, funny and wonderful most of the time. Now that I have the time and energy to devote to her, I know she wishes I were still focused on the boys.
What she does not realize is how quickly our next three-and-a-half years will fly by. Just like her older brothers, the burden of parents, rules and restrictions is all she sees and feels, not my love and concern for her. What do I see and feel? The urgent need to cram everything I want her to know before she faces the world alone. I find myself praying daily that I will complete my mission before my time is up.
I guess because I was so scattered with five children, I don’t remember how funny preteen boys can be. Davis and Hews not only resemble Flin and Jack in looks, but personalities as well. They are a surprising — and comforting — mix of their older brothers’ traits, mannerisms, actions and words. I simply love them right now more than they can know. In a weird and maybe unfair way, they are my second chance with my boys.
I find myself less hassled by their antics, less frantic that they will be on their own soon and less bothered by their mistakes. I am thoroughly enjoying laughing and listening to their tales of sixth-grade romance, academics and woe. I don’t want to miss a single lacrosse, basketball or baseball game, let alone a chance to give them a pat on the back and say, “Job well done.”
While I no longer go over every homework assignment with them (not that I ever did that with any of my children; I just like to imagine myself capable of such a feat), I do continue to ask Mimi, Davis and Hews nearly every night, “Do you have homework?” This simple phrase somehow helps me define my place in the universe as a mother.
In the past two years, I have discovered transitions are not easy but change is constant. I also have discovered that while not over, my life as a mother is constantly evolving in ways I never imagined. For so many years I tried to spread my attention and love evenly among the five of them. Looking back, I realize that it was impossible to keep everything even — despite my best intentions.
Inevitably I had to choose between events, activities and even helping with homework. I can see where I made good choices, and I can see the bad ones as well. Fortunately, more often than not, I find myself figuring out how not to make the same mistakes I made with the older two boys.
It is only human to wonder what life would be like if one’s circumstances were changed: perhaps fewer children, a different mix of genders and ages. At times the journey of motherhood has felt like more than I could handle.
Regardless of what the future holds, I am certain the journey will continue to challenge my ability to mother them all with grace, confidence and rare second chances.
- The writer is the mother of five and wife of one who runs a business in Alexandria.