On the Downslope

I didn’t grow up picturing my life as a mother.

At varying stages I pictured myself as a vet (during long James Herriot marathons), or maybe a doctor-slash-paramedic (I totally learned what “Ringers lactate” was from that show, Emergency!). Barring that, I imagined my life in a glamorous, but vaguely specific high rise office in my heels and power suit with a secretary. As I hit the reality of college and gave up the doctor dream thanks to organic chemistry and a general lack of motivation about it, my career daydreams turned to Ivory Towers, three to five office hours a week and sabbaticals around writing Major Novels.

Never, once, did I think about what it would be like to be a mom. NOTE: I don’t qualify this as “full time” or otherwise because unless you are loaded and have a staff of nannies, all moms are “full time employees” of their family.

Mind you, I jumped onto the mommy train a bit early, or at least earlier than is the norm these days. I had my first kid when I was 25 years old, approximately five months after my wedding to the kid’s father. We will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this year, in November. This is his Official Reminder.

Mr. Wench and I never got to experience the phenomenon known as being DINKs and by necessity for his career trajectory, we moved around at the whim of his early employer(s).

Ergo, I found myself as the mommy of a sweet little boy way before I had any idea that it would become my most important job. When he turned two, I found myself experiencing a Very Strange Urge. If you’ve been there, you know the one I mean. I wanted another baby.

Even though I felt as if I wished away every stage of Wenchling Numero Uno’s life, trying to boost him to the next one so we could “get on with things.” Whatever the hell that means.

So, given our apparent optimal fertility, our three became four and after a little re-hospitalization scare for yours truly a day after the birth of Wenchling Numero Dos we settled into a different life — one wherein the job I had managed to hold down and still afford to pay for a Montessori Day Care became no longer feasible. Even back in the late nineties, “day care” was a euphemism for “working to pay for it.”

I found a compromise career as a realtor and by the time the youngest was three I thought I’d struck a decent balance. Then 2 things happened:
Mr. Wench got a great offer — to move again — to Japan.
I found out I was pregnant again.

Once day, I’ll write finish the memoir entitled “Headache Pay — My Adventures as an Ex-Pat Trailing Spouse & Trilingual Mama” but suffice it to say the next 7 years were….interesting. Between organizing moves from Michigan to Japan, then Japan to Kansas City, then Kansas City to Istanbul, then Istanbul to England, then England back to Michigan I assure you I have some stories to tell.

During those years, I was, by necessity at home and managing my kids and their lives all day, every day (but for an odd, brief, wonderful respite in Istanbul but more on that another time). When we returned stateside (back to Ann Arbor) in 2004 I grabbed that real estate license back and jumped into the work fray once more, this time with a 13 year old, a 9 year old and a 6 year old. Thus began what I’ve come to think of as the American School Years, chock full of field trips, soccer games, piano recitals, football games, driver’s licenses, illicit house parties and general teenager stress.

In the middle of all this family chaos, I took a career turn that revealed itself as The Big Mistake. This Mistake took me away from my family because it consumed me, completely. I gave myself over to it and everything about it and was rewarded five years later by being kicked out of the company I helped to found. And in hindsight, honestly, the ONLY thing that still hurts me is the time I lost being the mom I needed to be.

So now, I’m sitting here three weeks from the proverbial empty nest and pondering what it means to be a mom.

I know it’s not time to do a touchdown dance. I realize any one of these Wenchlings could end up right back in my house for any number of reasons. And I am always Their Mom.

But to “be a mom” means more than what I think I brought to the game, perhaps because I was too young, or I never really realized how very important that job is.

To new parents I would say don’t, no matter how tempting it may be, wish away the amazing stages of your child’s life. Relish each one. Roll around in it. Go outside on sunny days with you baby and and let them laugh at butterflies, get dirty, take naps whenever they feel like it and kiss them at least a million times in each passing 24-hour period.

Color with them. Make bubbles and play dough and plant flowers without worry about germs or dirt. Read books — read a lot of books. Nurse your baby if you are able, all the way through their first year.

In short, I’m in a blue place, wishing so damn hard I could have it all back, to rewind and re-do and make better decisions (especially about whom to trust when it comes to career change decisions). But the bottom line is, this July will march on and July 28 will show up and I will take the Soccer Wenchling to her new living place on the campus of the University of Akron so she can begin her new adventure.

But I did my best. And if nothing else, our kids will know how to choose a great beer or wine for a party or dinner, the starting line up of the 1986 Louisville Cardinals NCAA Basketball Championship team, how to change a tire and the oil on their car, how to dress to attend the Kentucky Derby, and the value of a great Netflix series binge.

Do your best, and enjoy the rest.


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