Going through my normal evening routine, tidying up the kitchen, I was jolted with a surprising realization: I was home alone. For the first time in, well, forever.
If you had asked me how I’d feel about that a decade ago, when I was a SAHM with four kids ranging in age from 8 to infancy, I’d have said, “Are you kidding? I would LOVE to be home alone!” At that time in my life, I often felt like I was drowning in motherhood: always being clutched by sticky fingers, wiping butts, wiping noses, doing household chores with a baby hanging from my boob. Someone needed something from me at all times. I would have given anything to be in the bathroom by myself, let alone have the whole house to myself.
To compound that problem, anyone with four little kids can tell you that they’re never, ever all gone at the same time. Even if you’ve got three kids spending the night at various friends’ houses, you’ve still got one at home — so to have all four gone at once is exceedingly rare. I can name one single time in my entire 18-year history of being a mom when all my children were out of the house.
Until now, that is.
These days, the oldest three are teenagers, and the youngest, my “baby,” just started junior high. And on this particular evening, one was with his girlfriend, one was at football practice, and two were hanging out at friends’ houses. They had trickled out at different times, so I had barely noticed that they were all gone — until the stark silence came crashing down on me. When it did, I stood motionless at the kitchen counter for a moment, sponge suspended in my hand, absorbing the solitude. And then … the tears came.
I don’t know exactly why. I guess it’s because it gave me a preview of a time in the (disturbingly near) future when all of my kids will be gone — a time that I dread. Never in my kids’ lives have I felt so uncertain about what the next few years will hold, or so keenly and painfully aware of how fast the time is going. Every now and then I’ll calculate the approximate number of Christmases they’ll wake up to race for their stockings under our shared roof, or the number of summers we have left until each one graduates and my heart literally feels like someone is squeezing it. Of all the roles I’ve played in my lifetime, the biggest and most important by far is the primary role of Mom. My work, my friendships, everything else has always been secondary to motherhood in these years while they still need me. But when that role is no longer the main one … will I even know who I am?
Maybe the slow pulling away of our kids during the teen years — and these random times when we find ourselves home alone — are designed to prepare us for the inevitably empty nest. Like a dress rehearsal. Loneliness is a feeling I never expected to encounter in motherhood, yet now that my kids are older, I feel it more acutely than I could have ever imagined.
It’s the physical absence: the silence and stillness that once sounded absolutely blissful now just … engulf me. But it’s also the emotional distance that’s growing. I have no doubt that they love me, but there are times when I wonder if they like me. It’s hard to go from being the person who knew my children the most intimately, to the last person they want to confide in most of the time. There are things they don’t want me to know, things they don’t want to discuss. I’m always here for them, of course, and they know that — but I’m no longer the first person they run to when something is bothering them; they have friends who fill that role now.
I didn’t anticipate feeling this way. Ever. I figured that by the time my kids were old enough to venture out on their own, I’d be more than ready for some alone time. But what once felt like freedom to me now feels like a slow march toward the conclusion of something I … don’t actually want to conclude.
I know I’ll always be their mom, and I’ll always be here for them with open arms. I know it’s not like they’re going to walk out of this house when they’re young adults and just never come back (right?!). It’s just that I can sense we’re at the precipice of a big transition: good for them, but so difficult for me. I never realized exactly how hard it would be to let go of the (not-so) little hands I’ve been holding, literally and figuratively, for their entire lives.
So when they are home, I hug them a little longer. I stare at them while they’re playing on their phones, trying to soak them in (until they glance up and say, “Bruhhh, why are you looking at me like that?”). I don’t gripe (well, okay, maybe not as often) about the cabinets left open or the toilet seat left up or the wet towels on the floor. Some day, when it’s just my husband and me and a quiet, spotless house with closed cabinets and closed toilets, I’ll be glad I tried my hardest to absorb every moment with my teenagers. Because now that the reality of an empty nest is closing in, I’m realizing how much truth is in the phrase I detested so much when they were little and their departure felt like a lifetime away: the days are long, but the years … the years really are oh so short.
These celebrity parents are making raising teenagers look easy — or at least more bearable.
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