The most bittersweet thing about motherhood

When I was a child, I used to love waiting for my father to get home.

Whether I was perched in my bedroom window, watching the driveway through my sheer drapes, or out in the outermost parts of our yard, at the edge of the woods, barefoot. I was kept watch despite whatever activity I was engaged in. Expectantly excited.

Down the driveway his green truck would come. The radio blaring loudly through the windows; some kind of oldies station or The Beatles typically on. I would always peek sheepishly around the side of the house before I waltzed over our clamshell driveway to greet him. He smelled of dirt and oil and grease. In a good way. He spent long, hot, hazy summer days on a golf course “keeping the grass green.” It was a perfume of the outdoors, of the working man.

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Though I always thought I was the most glad to see my dad, I think it was my mother who was always even happier to see him. They’d chat for a while about their day. He’d summarize this or that while she offered up a listening ear.

In all honesty, I can’t remember the things that they talked about. I really didn’t listen. It didn’t matter to me. I just knew that they were happy to see one another after a long day.

Flash forward to my life now. My children are normally beside themselves when their daddy gets home. Sometimes, this warms the coggles of my heart in unexpected ways, while on others it make me wonder if they even enjoy being with me at all. “But I made you all peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and took you to the park and made animals out of play-doh….aren’t I great, too??”

In all actuality, I’m so glad to see them so excited to see their dad. To watch them chirp “hello” to him, and smile up at him and tell them about their day is so beautiful.

But, just as it was with my mother was, the varied excitement of my children pales in comparison to how happy I sometimes am to see my husband’s car backing down the driveway. How blissful it is to hear him turn that car off and see him walk in that door, suit jacket and all.

Because isn’t that the mark of the end of the day for a stay at home mom? When her husband gets home and brings with him an extra set of helping hands and bedtime is suddenly seems within a short distance? Suddenly, it all seems doable. A sigh of release.

Also because I’m slightly guilty. 

Of rushing through the days, mentally willing them to go faster. 

I’ve always done this. I’m one-half a person of hurry.

I remember Thanksgiving dinners at my grandmother’s house. The juicy turkey, the perfect mashed potatoes and the absolute BEST dressing in the entire world. It was all perfect. But as my grandmother grew older, my aunts would no sooner be done with their plates before they were doing dishes in the kitchen. And if they detected that you were done your meal, you’d soon be put to work, too. Clearing the tables, gathering silverware, manning the dishwasher.

In their (wonderful) efforts to help and be an efficient to aid my grandmother, sometimes we skipped something that makes any meal or gathering more than just congregating to eat. The savoring. 

The conversation. The melted butter on fluffy dinner rolls. The remnants of gravy and turkey bits still left on plates. The sound of the now grown up grandchildren, enjoying conversation with one another.

I wanted it to slow down, sometimes. So badly. We don’t really do Thanksgiving celebrations collectively anymore. To serve that many people (12 grand children, 4 daughters and their spouses and now seven great-grandchildren) is simply too much for my grandmother. Understandably so!

I’m half a person that wants to hurry. Let’s get through this day. Let’s lunge forward to nap time. Let’s think about dinner. Let’s consider if we need a bath or not later this evening. Hurry off to bed. Where do we want to go to vacation next year? What about Christmas shopping?? (*ahem* in August.) I always like having something to “look forward to.”

I don’t mean to do it. It’s ingrained in me. It’s ingrained in all of us.

The only thing consistent about parenting is that it’s full of change. My oldest is now five. Which isn’t that old in the grand scheme of things. But to me, he’s enormous now. He is not the small, pink-faced baby that they handed to me that very first time we met. Neither he nor his sister very much resemble the small, delicate people I brought home from the hospital. I can remember the smell of the hospital. The smell of the baby soap that they used to first clean them. The way that their skin felt.

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It’s gone. And it went way too fast.

My son is about to start kindergarten this week. He will be gone all day this year. I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself. And I tell him as much. But he tells me that he needs “to go and learn and be with friends.” It’s true. He does.

The most bitersweet thing about parenting isn’t that it’s enormously difficult, all-consuming and exhausting: it’s that it is a series of goodbyes. Goodbye to the umbilical cord. Goodbye to nursing. Goodbye to 1 a.m. and then 3 a.m. feedings. Goodbye to pacifiers, baby monitors. Then diapers. And so on and so forth.

It’s a steady, streaming sequence of farewells. At first, perhaps it’s the things that we are pleased to be rid of (colic?) Then over time, you realize that those little things add up, that the little things start to become bigger and bigger things.

How many times I sat on my bed, crying and red-faced because my infant wouldn’t sleep. How many times I wished for them to walk instead of whining about not being able to do it. How many times I wanted to let go before they were ready.

Now it seems that the opposite will become reality. They will be ready to let go before I would ever even consider it. I suppose that in some way, this means that my husband and I have been successful. That my beautiful children can let go with one hand to confidently reach out and grab the next thing that life has to offer. Even at 3 and 5 years of age. That they are assured that mom and dad are behind them as they toddle forward.

People tell you to enjoy every moment because in the next instant it will be gone. This is so true. Because in all honesty, it will never be enough time. Watching them grow for 18 years, it’s never going to satisfy the parent in us. We will always want more. We will always want to go back.

But, I guess that with the letting go comes watching them fly. Parenting is a crafting of sorts. Not of boxing in or collecting our children for ourselves, not of trying to make them a keepsake. But of careful pruning and deliberate care.

The Bible compares young children to arrows in the quiver of a young warrior. The idea is that our children are arrows, and they are given to us, the trained hand. To craft, to guide, to release. They’re meant to fly. That they’re meant to take aim, to take shape, to possess power. You quietly and steadily prepare for those moments, those moments where you have to let them go.

You just don’t always realize that this is what you have been doing ever since you found out that your world was about to become one person bigger; until you’re in the thick of it. Potty training. Sleeping through the nightWatching them ride a bike or swing a bat for the first time. School. Graduation. College. Moving out. Wedding days.

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Until it comes down to that final releasing of the two tiny fingers you are still left holding on to them with. Moms, dads, you were made for these moments, too. Just as they were. Just as they have been all this time.

You were made for the moments of nurture and of release. It’s nothing to fear, nothing to mourn. It’s something to try to embrace.

It tastes bitter at first. But it’s followed by the greatest of sweetness. Watching them aim. Watching them fly. Watching them hit their mark. It is the joy and the satisfaction of a parent to see their child thrive. Isn’t it?

I’m due with my third child in about six or seven weeks. And this time I promised myself that I would try not to wish those first few months away. How I loathe the first six weeks. The hormones. The exhaustion. The sore breasts. The trying desperately to find a rhythm in what is a new season of life, no matter how many babies you already have. I don’t do very well with it. I’m ready for things to run like a well-greased machine the instant that it all begins, because I think I know what to expect, what it is that I am supposed to do.

We’ll see how I fair with all of that. But for now, Tuesday morning, when the bus comes, I’ll take my motherhood licks. I’ll cry afterwards, my insides will well up and tighten during the goodbye. But I will smile when I watch him smile.

And I’ll try to be excited about the things to come. 

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15 thoughts on “The most bittersweet thing about motherhood

  1. andthreetogo says:

    I, too, find myself looking forward instead of being present. I swear it’s the hardest thing ever for me. But having kids does teach one many awesome things over time, I think this will be a lesson I learn eventually…. Hopefully. 🙂

    Like

    • ashleylecompte says:

      I always joke and say that I’ll be good at so many things by the time my children are grown. So I’ll make an awesome parent then, but at that point, most of the “parenting work” will be done. It’s super hard to not be in mom-mode all of the time and be planning and thinking about the next step. It just comes with the territory 🙂 We’ll work on it together!

      Like

  2. justamom8225 says:

    This is such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your memories of Thanksgiving and your parents. Also, incredibly poignant reminders here- to live in the moment and cherish every second. It seems as if we blink and our children are grown.

    Like

  3. threeboysandamom says:

    Oh Ashley this was beautiful!!!! Made me teary talking about the goodbyes. You’re so right, motherhood is a gut wrenching and beautiful cycle of goodbyes, and although we hate to let go, that’s ultimately the goal and result of good parenting. This was great. Its hard to slow down and savor everything sometimes, but I do try. I’m excited for your 3rd baby! They’re a lucky bunch to have you as their mommy!

    Like

  4. melissajane01 says:

    Loved this! So beautifully written. I too find myself wishing the day would hurry up…but I know I shouldn’t. It is all so bittersweet.

    Like

  5. shelahmoss says:

    So often when I am working with an anxious child, obsessing over an imagined hurt I urge them to “live in the moment” to savor our time together. Thank you for reminding me to do that myself, to stop and enjoy the conversation.

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  6. Sarah says:

    It’s SO hard to stay in the present as a mother, especially when we are home with our kids SO MUCH! We have so much to do, and we have so much stress… it’s such a relief when our hubby’s walk through the door! I’m going to make a conscious effort to be more present and to NOT rush things… our children grow far too fast for that!

    Like

  7. Lauren says:

    This is so sweet! I always felt like I was rushing to the next moment with my first baby… but with my second I think I have done a better job of really enjoying each moment, since now I realize how short this time is with them being babies.

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  8. ashleylecompte says:

    Reblogged this on This Heart… and commented:

    “How many times I sat on my bed, crying and red-faced because my infant wouldn’t sleep. How many times I wished for them to walk instead of whining about not being able to do it. How many times I wanted to let go before they were ready.

    Now it seems that the opposite will become reality. They will be ready to let go before I would ever even consider it….”

    Like

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