The moment was so subtle I almost didn’t notice.
My kids were playing Legos with the door shut. In my five-minute sweep of the house, I propped open the door and peered into the room.
“Everything OK in here?” I asked. They grunted, barely glancing my way. I moved on, leaving the door ajar behind me.
It slammed in my wake.
Strange, I thought. Must have been the wind. When I walked by again a few minutes later, I opened to door wide and kept moving. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my son, he-who-cannot-be-moved-from-a-Lego-project, actually stand up, look my way and close the door.
I was shut out.
My oldest son is a pre-teen, and I realize this is where it begins, this slow separation, the way kids break away in small ways to test their independence. My children used to follow at my heels like pups. Now they go hours without my supervision.
However, the closed door caught me off-guard. As parents there is always the secret hope that your kids won’t be like other kids. Somehow they alone will skip the surly teenage years. The closed door was just one more reminder that my kids are following that typical trajectory as they ease out of childhood.
My role has shifted as well. An encounter with Mom used to mean a story, a game or playtime on the floor. Now it means you need to practice your instrument, unload the dishwasher or get on those spelling words. As they grow, my boys get more responsibility and my expectations increase. My son remarked, “Every time I come downstairs you give me a job.” Smart kid. No wonder he wants to hide in his room.
There are different phases of motherhood, and I have entered a new one. I looked around at church the other day and realized I am no longer a “young mother.” I am in middle motherhood. I have no diapers or baby food on hand. My boys are enormous. Any day now my oldest son will outpace me in foot size. I can’t make a meal and expect leftovers, even when I triple the recipe. (And I always triple the recipe.) I can’t stock enough bread, milk, Band-Aids or clean white socks.
These were the years I dreamed about, when every family member could dress themselves and buckle their seat belt. I love having my children around, but I like it best when they’re involved in their own projects and me in mine. I am confident in my place, knowing that I am still the center of this family universe, and all action orbits around me.
But I must admit, it gets a little lonely here in the middle. Where I was once in the thick of the backyard water balloon fights of summer, I’ve been relegated to chief popsicle maker. Where I once structured the day according to my terms, the kids’ activities now dictate my schedule. I am needed, but more as a springboard or touchpoint and less as a 24-hour caretaker and nursemaid. My job is to show up, preferably with good food.
Yet I understand this is a golden age of sorts, that delicate time between childhood and adulthood. No real teenage attitude to speak of. No kids with car keys. No cellphone and texting battles. I see the fruit of small labors. My kids can mow the lawn, play a decent song on the piano and whip up a plate of scrambled eggs for breakfast. I’m still the ringleader of a two-penny circus, but my sidekicks are more helpful.
Without the minute-to-minute demands of babies, and the emotional stress of teenagers, I have more free time. More time to think and create. More time to enjoy my children instead of discipline or coax them.
In this phase, I am coming to realize this about motherhood: It is simply a set of doors. As one set closes, another opens. There is always movement, there is hopefully progression, there is most certainly the joy coupled with pain of new phases for the entire family. My hope, the hope of every parent, is to keep the door of communication open, keep the circus running, keep the orbit spinning and most of all savor each stage of this singular journey.
Tiffany Gee Lewis lives in St. Paul, Minn., and is the mother of four boys. She blogs at thetiffanywindow.wordpress.com. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org