The Mommy Vortex: New Beginnings
Back in July, I attempted to get a head start on buying school supplies for my kids, prompted mostly by the tremendous “Back to School” displays reminding me that I’d better get started or there would be nothing left by the time school actually began in September. That old familiar feeling of guilt coupled with anxiety washed over me, and I dutifully began loading my cart. As the summer has not-so-slowly crept towards September, I find myself wishing I could go back to that day in July, when I would have my kids around for another two months, without the pressure of everything that school brings pressing down on us.
Each September (or August, depending where you live), so many of us moms face the beginning of a new school year. And many of us, like myself, experience that bittersweet feeling of watching our kids grow while having to reinvent ourselves for another year as we let go a little more of our babies.
This year – for the first time – I will have two children in school for a full school day. I joked all summer long about how grateful I would be to finally have more time during the day, how it would be so much easier to take on more clients without cobbling together childcare, and how I could finally feel more “normal” again. As the summer days evaporate, though, I’m feeling more and more sadness that I’m sending my youngest off to school, leaving me a bit empty and purposeless as a mom during the hours of 8 am to 3 pm. This, I guess, is my new “normal.”
I know there are moms out there who feel the same – the moms who sit in school parking lots waiting for their nursery school-aged kids to get out of their 90 minute programs; the moms who can’t bear to let go as their five-year-olds cross the school threshold for the first time; those moms whose middle-schoolers no longer want to be picked up or dropped off by their parents; and even those moms who have to set up a dorm room and leave their babies – for real – for the very first time. These are heady milestones, and the feelings of guilt, sadness and worry all converge simultaneously in an overwhelming wave.
And then there are the moms who are really excited for school to start – the moms who have well-adjusted kids that pack their own bags and pick out their first-day outfits. It is bittersweet for those moms, too, as they have to allow their kids to start their next chapter, a little more independent and self-sufficient than the year before. It’s what we work for as moms, but it is undeniably hard to let go sometimes.
This time of year brings so many changes for so many families. I think it’s particularly hard on those moms who are the primary caretakers of the children. We have to give our kids support and confidence, and share their excitement and anxiety, while also dealing with our own conflicting emotions of happiness, guilt, sadness, loneliness, and yes, relief. We have to reinvent our schedules at home and at work – especially those mothers heading back to work for the first time after maternity leave – and we have to figure out how to do it all while keeping our households as sane as possible when kids are involved.
This can be a difficult time of year for so many reasons. But it is also a season of new beginnings. I am trying, valiantly, to focus on all the positive aspects of sending two children to school – and less on how this means the baby chapter in my life is pretty much over. There is immediate relief in that, but the guilt for that relief is also not so far behind.
I think, too, that we moms all have to be a bit kinder to ourselves as the onslaught of after-school activities, homework, bus schedules, and cafeteria bullies overtakes our daily lives. We have to remember to carve out some time for ourselves whenever we can, so that we can be present for our children as they need us during these times of change and growth.
We need to acknowledge a job well done as we send our little people out into the world, even if it’s for just a few hours a day. And we need to embrace the fact that we are growing, too.
Yes, this is an exciting and anxiety-ridden time full of bittersweet emotions . . . and yet, I’m fairly sure it won’t be long before many of us longingly ask, “How many days until summer vacation?!” – just so we can start it all over again next year.
Rosemarie Coppola-Baldwin is a practicing attorney and a dedicated mother of two children. A Georgetown University graduate, Rosemarie has practiced law at a major New York City law firm and for the City of New York. Rosemarie has been a guest lecturer on women’s civil rights and related legal issues at St. John’s University (New York), and offers pro bono legal services to a variety of entities.