Monday, July 26, 2010

The Next Forty Years

Two weeks ago I turned 40. For-tee. As in years old. And as you'd expect it made me pause for a moment.

I'll tell you there were times as a young mother that I thought my life would be full of runny noses and messy diapers forever, that I'd never ever again be able to take a shower without someone banging on the door, screaming, "MOM!" or get an uninterrupted eight hours of sleep or have a dinner where I wasn't cutting up someone's meat. I remember days where I'd come home from church swearing I'd never set foot inside the chapel again after the trauma of battling four kids through a sermon or where all I could think about from four o'clock on were the minutes until Andrew got home from work.

Now don't get me wrong--those days weren't horrible or regrettable and I'm grateful for every minute (even the ones that are best forgotten when I may not have been in top form) but I remember so clearly how those years of having small children with big needs stretched on endlessly before me and how I couldn't see that my life would ever be any different. I'd never again be able to wear dry-clean only clothing and I'd always have to carry a purse equipped with disposable diapers.

I was never one of those women who gloried in having small children around. I've known (and admired) women who have a dozen kids, take in foster children, then find time to run a daycare on the side but that's never been me. I've always preferred adult conversation to those where I'm trying to guess what the screaming means.

Please don't misunderstand. I love children--my children--and enjoyed having little arms around my neck and hearing the cute things they'd say but once they got old enough to tie their own shoes and take their own bathroom breaks I was thrilled. I remember older friends telling me, "Enjoy this time because it's the best time of your life" and I'd look at them as if they were insane. Insane. How could croup and colic be the best time of my life? Explain to me that because if it were the best I could expect then my future looked pretty darn bleak.

But it's funny how time has a way of going on with or without you and here I am, realizing that my period of having small children around was only a short ten years of my life, a mere one quarter of my time so far. Sometimes I think I'll be in tough times forever but life does, eventually, change and it moves on to new phases. You break up with your boyfriend and swear that you'll never love again but somehow it seems to pass. You get the flu and you'll never be healthy but one day you'll jump out of bed and feel ready for the day. Or maybe it's been raining so long you've forgotten what the sun looks like and you just know it'll rain forever but at some point you see the sun peaking through the curtains again.

While I don't think I'd ever go back to those years of physical exhaustion I do kind of treasure them in a strange way. It's as if the kids and I went through it all together and we all made it through none the worse for wear and it's made me love them all the more for those tough days. I never thought I'd say it but I am dreading the time when they finally leave home and the house is empty and the dinner table is quiet. On this side of things the accidents and spills are so much more funny and those years of young motherhood have helped me to understand that as life will always have those tough spells maybe other things I'll have to endure will also have happy endings.

Life will always have those bad days and bad times where you swear the rain will last forever but it won't. Even if there is tragedy time has a way of moving on and the weather will--eventually--change and you'll be left with the fuzzy memories of how crazy things used to be. And, magically, instead of remembering the heartache or hard times there's just a quiet satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that some how you made it through, that you were strong enough to endure--and that's feeling is worth more than a mountain of messy diapers.

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28 comments:

Jane Hamilton said...

Hi Michelle! Wow! 4o huh?! Hope I can look back at myself when I am that age, and say that I was anywhere as good as you...!

Well, Happy Birthday to you...and hope this year is more special than the last 39 put together...

MRMacrum said...

One thing is for sure. Having little tackers around leaves one no doubt they are alive. Sometimes it is torture. Sometimes it is more love than one person can handle. But I think kids keep us grounded and sane in the end. It worked for me. I would have probably gone off some deep end soemwhere if it were not for my kid.

I miss those times more than I ever thought I would. I am sure you will too.

Anonymous said...

Nice post.

I have a kid-related question. What do you think of Toy Story 3? Some of my friends have seen it and say it is too sad.

Musings of a Housewife said...

Congratulations on 40!!!

I actually LOVED those early years. I'm the one lamenting the fact that my baby is 4. SNIFF.

But I can also see the benefits of having older children, and I'm getting more accustomed to the idea.

Mrs. Ohtobe said...

40 huh? You young whippersnapper! Happy Late Birthday!!!

Denise said...

40. And you only raise your itty bitty kids one fourth of that. Well, that doesn't seem long at all, does it? This was a great post, related to it so much!

Raejean said...

Welcome to your 40's. It's funny how the round numbers cause us to reflect on our lives.

I think I'm beginning to understand what people meant by enjoying changing our babies diapers and consoling them when they were fussy. In hindsight, physical exhaustion seems a little more tolerable than emotional exhaustion.

Lucy said...

Wait'll you hit 60. That's crying time.

Kayris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kayris said...

I have enjoyed every stage of my children's growth, in varying degrees. But I'm also not one of those moms who wants to keep them small forever. A friend of mine bawled when her baby took his first steps, then again when he outgrew his crib and again when he potty trained, because it meant he wasn't a baby anymore. But the way I look at it, every age has wonderful things about it and given the choice, who would honestly choose to have them stay babies forever?

My oldest turns 6 in about a month and he's also starting kindergarten and it seems like the years flew by. But the sleepness nights and breastfeeding troubles and diapers and teething seem like a whole different set of issues when compared to the things he throws at me now. Just recently, I've had to answer questions about why women have breasts, what the word murder means, why sometimes babies die, where exactly babies come out of the mommy's tummy, why my mom's neighbor doesn't have a man living with her, and why girls have to wear bathing suit tops and boys don't. Pretty soon as he heads off to school, he'll be exposed to all sorts of things that babies and toddlers are blissfully unaware of, and although it won't be a hungry baby keeping me up at night, I'm sure there are other worries that will. Dealing with colic and potty training and picky eaters seems to much simpler in comparison.

My birthday is next month and although I'm not 40 yet, I feel more aware of my age and the passage of time. While I'm shopping for uniforms for my son and getting rid of all the baby gear and outgrown clothes, my house is rapidly becoming a non-baby place. If friends with little ones come over now, they need to be more vigilant because I don't have a gate on my stairs or covers on my outlets and there are tiny things at baby level like Legos and dress up jewelry. Sometimes it makes me feel disconnected from friends who are just starting their families, because after only a few years, I've forgotten some of what it was like.

Happy Birthday. And happy next 40 years!

Headless Mom said...

Happy birthday. 40's not so bad, is it?

Seriously... said...

thanks for this post!!! i'm in the midst of "it" right now (with a 6,5,3 and 1 year old....all boys) and some days i feel like i'm losing my mind. i love to hear about people coming out the other side!

CountessLaurie said...

Sniff...

Welcome to the fortays!!! Love them. I must say now that I am not wiping butts all the day long I am enjoying my time with my kids more.

Laura said...

Happy belated birthday! And thanks for another terrific post as a present to us :)

The Petersen Family said...

Hmm... We were just talking about this very thing at church on Sunday. Someone made the comment that they hated when people said "enjoy it while it lasts because it goes quickly." Glad to know there's a light at the end of the tunnel... Eventually.

angie said...

Happy Birthday......a bit late. So loved reading about your view on life at 40.....and raising your children.

Kim said...

Happy birthday! May this be your best decade yet!

Inkling said...

Happy Birthday. Thank you for giving us this gift of a post on your special day. Really. Thank you. This diaper changing, nose wiping, bedtime fighting, itsy-bitsy spider performing mama of a toddler thanks you from the bottom of her heart.

Sara said...

Happy 40th. I'm 40 plus one (argh!) with a teenager and a soon to be tween and loved your comments on motherhood. I couldn't wait for the 'baby' stage to end, I much prefer talkers and walkers to babies. However, don't fret, the evidence on changing family life says that they may move out at some stage, but are just as likely to move back in.... oh joy....

Gisela said...

HAPPY 40 Michelle!
Stumbled upon your post days after my 46th BDay.

As the mom of a child who just graduated from highschool at the same time as another who will just start Kindergarten, (and one in the middle), I have to say I have in-my-face everyday proof of the zoooming flash of time.

The sleepless nights of fussy baby turn into sleepless nights of teenager out. Just smile through them all. And the messes. Revel in them, really.

A cluttered house means kids live there. Enjoy it while you can. They leave, so does their clutter–- and life as you know it.

I wish you happy decades ahead!

page2 said...

Thanks for the encouragement! I am currently right in the middle of the phase of motherhood you described. Oh, how I long for a consistantly clean home! The problem is that my husband and I are on the cleaning team, and four little kids are on the messing team. Everyday the kids win. My hope is that in a few years we'll convert the kids to our side. I'm trying to convince myself that there are much more important things I can do for my family than have a clean home, but I'm having a hard time letting go.

Jules said...

I know what you mean. Our kids are now 25 and 23. Our house is empty. One thing is for sure....thank God for grandchildren. They are the best!

Stephanie said...

Happy Birthday.

Thank you for sharing this reflective post. It made me pause and remember again to savor these crazy, chaotic days of birthing, breastfeeding, potty training, reading picture books, answering why, etc.

stephanie@metropolitanmama.net

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

Happy Belated Birthday, Michelle!

We have just the one child, and she's 14 now. I'll admit that I love her independence, that I can go to the grocery store and leave her home alone, that she cleans her own room (sometimes...not that I clean it, but sometimes it's messy), that I don't have to nag her to do homework anymore. I like this stage. But I liked her baby years, too. I didn't like the diapers or the teething or the colic, but the wonder she found in the world, the way she looked at me as if the sun revolved around ME, the hugs and kisses...I enjoyed the heck out of that. I still get hugs and so on, but they're not the same. Better in some ways, sadder in others, but clearly not the same.

One day she'll be gone, and the house will be clean and my husband and I will have freedom to be impulsive and so on. I'll enjoy that time as well, but I'm in no rush. I love having her with us.

Lori said...

I'm in the midst of this: "And, magically, instead of remembering the heartache or hard times there's just a quiet satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that some how you made it through, that you were strong enough to endure--and that's feeling is worth more than a mountain of messy diapers." So thank you for the encouragement! I will make it through the exhaustion!

Carrie said...

Thank you for the encouragement for those of us on THIS side of 30! :) My little ones are 7 months and 2 1/2 years, and my days are crazy, but I do love it, and I do look forward to when my kids are all old enough to do the fun stuff I look forward to doing as a family, and there's no more nursing/diapers/baby food to deal with!!! :)

Janel said...

Why is hindsight always 20/20? ugh!

While I'm no saintly mother to masses either, I do find myself walking around the grocery store sighing at chubby little cheeks and drool. I miss the insanity of it all. And the chubby little cheeks that giggle so easily.

Happy Birthday! You're a real grown up now. ; )

Anonymous said...

Yeah 40! I was a great age for me!
Enjoy and make it a great year!