That picture was taken years ago on a trip to the San Juan Islands. I’m holding my oldest who will now be entering her second year of college, and I love the way the reflection and the mirror seem to hang perfectly in the field. We’re looking forward and backward at the same time. I feel like I’m at that point in my life for real now. It’s summer break — lots of time for reflection and a long expanse of possibilities before me with promises to make and keep.
Here are the promises I’ve made to myself this summer:
- To exercise (or at least to go to yoga consistently) because I’m not getting younger.
- To stay away from sugar — evil addiction.
- To clear away the clutter around the house, which seriously feels futile.
- To explore towns nearby that I’ve never been to and take more pictures.
- To have more patience with my teens.
- To finally finish that baby book for Daughter#2 (she’ll be a HS senior in the fall).
- To spend time training for the new curriculum my district has adopted.
- To read more.
- To try new recipes but stick to a Whole-30-ish lifestyle.
- To Write Every Day for 30 days.
Promises I’ve kept so far:
- I’m on Day 16 of the Writing Promise — but I’m not there yet and this writing daily thing is hard. When I get up in the morning, I’m often not sure what I’ll have to say or if it will be of interest to anyone. I resist the temptation to virtually crumple up what I’m writing and play a game of trash basketball.
That’s it really. I’ve been on summer break for a little over two weeks and that’s all I’ve managed to accomplish.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I took a professional development workshop, provided by my district, for the new curriculum; I’ve stuck (more or less) to a low carb, non-sweet-filled diet because the family still wants to eat every day and if I’m going to be chief cook, I get to decide; I did clean out the guest room (sort of) because we had a guest; and I’ve been reading lots — started three books, but have finished none.
Clearly, I need to have someone hold me accountable because I’m just not cut out for the job.
Why is it so much easier to keep the promises we make to others than the ones we make to ourselves?
My guess is that the answer lies in where we fall on the priority list. As mothers, we often put ourselves towards the bottom. Our days, especially when the kids are little, are filled to the brim with caring for them. As they grow older, they still need us, so it isn’t until they’re almost out the door that we realize the kids aren’t taking up all of our time anymore. With one daughter in college and the other just about to fly off (ok, in another year — but she is very independent), it seems as if I’m just about there, with more time on my hands. This precipice is daunting.
I think mothers seem to have more trouble re-discovering who we are after years of making sure our babies become who exactly who they are destined to be. We seem to have more trouble re-prioritizing ourselves towards the top of that list. We might say that we understand the need to put on our own oxygen masks first, but the truth is we’re still scrambling to make sure everyone else has theirs.
The other day, as I was dropping off Daughter#2 for church camp (her ninth year), there were mothers who were worried and tearful. Not dads so much — they’re either more stoic or realize they will have more time for hobbies this week. But those moms. It wasn’t so long ago that I was right there with them, so I get it.
There was one mom in particular. She’d just put her three sons on the bus for the first time. The oldest, I think, may be in late middle school or high school — the youngest is 8 or 9 years old. She’s never been away from them — ever. And the poor thing was a mess. She had plans for the week with her husband, and she admitted that she knew the boys would be fine, but her heartbreak was cascading over her like a waterfall. She truly didn’t know what she was going to do without those boys for one week.
I read similar stories from mothers who post on-line that they are lost once their babies have flown the coop. Suddenly, with time to spare, they cannot figure out how to spend their time — or even what promises they’ve made to themselves over the years.
I’ll be honest — landing in that empty space scares me. I look forward to my empty nest and retiring from the classroom, but I don’t want to wear a path between the rooms of my house as I wander aimlessly, wondering what to do. It’s a trap we all are warned about. Truth is, by the time we get to this place, we’re tired — and I’m afraid we feel a little selfish putting ourselves first. It feels awkward at best.
If I were to talk to my best friends about this, they would cheer me on, they would tell me it’s time. They would applaud my efforts at rediscovery. I would do the same for them. Being that cheerleader for myself is so much harder.
So I make promises to myself. I try to hold myself accountable (like I only get coffee until I’ve written for the morning . . . breakfast as incentive!). In the end, it’s really about priorities and follow-through.
Maybe, though, we also need to give ourselves time to sit. When the kids were little and would cry out how bored they were, I took that as a good sign. They would learn to push through that boredom if I just let them sit in it a while — and they did. So maybe it’s the same with moms. We need a little time to sit.
Luckily, as a teacher, I get that time each summer. I get to sit through long, lazy days when the sweltering heat is almost too much to slog through. But I don’t want my summer to go by without anything to show for it, just as I want to make sure this second half of my life is rich with those things that will fill my heart like my children did as they were growing up.
So it’s time to follow through on some of those promises. Time to start scooting myself towards the top of that priority list. I wonder how other moms negotiate this time in their lives. I would love to hear from you. Maybe we can cheer each other on.