Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Last Summer of the Sippy Cup

Whew. August 2010.
While it was rather warm, the heat was not the only thing making me sweat.
I've waited to write this post for two months now, anticipating a peace to overtake my sentimentality, a settling of the mom-turmoil in my heart. It is with a finally peaceful, albeit a little sore, heart that I type these words. All three of my children have been in school since August and I must admit, it has been an interesting adjustment for me. Unexpectedly, I feel almost like I'm grieving the loss of something. In a healthy way. For me, these last couple of months have been a time of remembering the past quietly, and a bit tearfully, and saying goodbye to it, folding it up gently like a newly washed favorite quilt, and putting it away somewhere that I can always find it, but nevertheless, putting it away.

In our house, this was the last summer of the sippy cup.

For me, the month of August signaled the end of an era. The baby era. The toddler era. The morning playdate era. The I've got to get out of this house or I'll scream era. The era when you have conversations about bowel movements with other moms that you barely know or when going to the grocery store is a grand getaway because the kids are in bed at home with Daddy and you can't spend money anywhere else. It was the end of what I always fondly referred to as "the wiping decade". For the last 8 years of my life, I have spent much of each day wiping faces, spit up, bums, noses, potty chairs, high chairs, tables, floors, innocent bystanders, throw up, slobber, doorknobs, snot, carseats, booster seats, toys, and well, you get the picture. I have spent these years in every imaginable frame of mind. I have been incandescently happy, overwhelmingly depressed, deeply grateful, full of regret, happy to help, sick of being the maid, ready for anything, grossed out by body fluids, undercaffeinated, overcaffeinated, unconditionally loving, a jerk, full of wisdom, and mean and vengeful, all in one day. I have been at home with my children since they were born and now they are all in school. The change I am adjusting to goes far beyond the newness of having them all in school. It is a new season altogether.

These last eight years I have fished bugs out of mouths, changed sandy diapers (when we went the beach and Lane ate a mother load of sand while I wasn't looking), looked for shoes that had been tossed out of car windows on the side of the road, had arguments with pediatricians about immunizations, researched rashes in the wee hours, read Green Eggs and Ham eighty-four million times, watched The Jungle Book ninety-four million times, made macaroni and cheese ten thousand times, ordered chicken finger and fries from every restaraunt I know, and stood helplessly baffled in the middle of the grocery store while my 2 year old repeatedly banged his head against the floor, in the throes of a temper tantrum because I wouldn't let him write on his jeans with a pen.

I have had three C-sections.

I have stayed up all night a lot. Feeding newborns, praying for wisdom, worrying about money, cleaning up vomit, rocking a colicky baby, watching over fevers, putting together Christmas gifts, and making cakes for birthday parties.
I have actually hidden in the bathroom with the door locked, eating chocolate and praying that they would all just go away. Please, stop banging the door down and just go away...

Seriously though, my resume, if I were allowed to have one for being a stay at home mom, would rock.

However, I have given up much to stay home. I haven't gone back to school to finish my degree. I haven't gone back to work. I wanted to be home for all of it. I knew I'd regret it if I didn't stay home when my children were babies. I haven't had that power career I started to think I'd have right before I got married. I haven't even hit the foreign mission field yet, like I thought I would when I became a christian. I haven't had much spending money, or the cool designer clothes and shoes that I would have loved to wear. I haven't gone to Spain or Paris or Ireland or even Alaska, like I thought I would do before I turned 30. I haven't hobknobbed with sophisticated people, or decked out my house with the coolest antiques or mod retro furniture or that white slipcovered couch that I made the mistake of buying and then sold pretty quickly when Lane spit up on it.

I have gained weight and gone whole days without brushing my teeth, given up on having fabulous hair and, in some ways, let myself go, because for most of those years, there just wasn't room for what my family needed and what I needed.

So, at the beginning of the summer when 4YO Matthew, the last of my three to go off to school, was having trouble giving up his sippy cup I told him he had until the end of the summer, when he started school, in August. Since he would be in school every day, he needed to be able to handle it without a sippy cup. Every other trace of babyhood had pretty much been done away with except for the sippy cups. We had already grown out of cribs, pack n plays, diapers and pullups, strollers, and baby dishes.

The last day of summer came. I remember waking up in the morning and thinking this is the day that we throw away Mattie's sippy cups. He was ready. After breakfast he took one more last long swig, stared me directly in the face and said, "Here. Throw it away." As I tossed those faded, chewed up cups and lids into the trash can,whose spill proof seals no longer worked and Cars characters couldn't be discerned anymore, I watched his face for signs of panic. Nothing. He smiled up at me, shrugged his shoulders slightly, and turned and walked out of the kitchen. I found myself standing there staring down into the trash can, bereft. There, among the potato peels and empty egg carton, next to the junk mail, lay the remnants of almost a decade that changed me forever from a whining burden into a capable set of hands and feet and heart, from a wimp into a warrior, from a woman into a mother.
Since then, I will admit, I've been throwing a little bit of a pity party. I've been holding back from really engaging among new acquaintances at our new church here in Tulsa. I've delayed making plans, making friends, making my peace. It's as if, with the kids in school and all this time for me to now pursue those other dreams of being a writer and an artist, of getting healthy and going back to school, I don't know who I am anymore beyond being a mother to very small children. I know it's time to find out again.

So I ask you to picture me now. I am sitting on the couch, a cup of tea on the table next to me, the soft lighting of the lamp on overhead. I am holding a book. The book of these last eight incredible years of motherhood to my three children as babies and toddlers. It's not an attractive book. It's old and kind of smelly, with smears of food and ripped pages. It looks like someone has taken a black marker to some of the pages, and scribbled with abandon. A few of the pages are crumpled, some have been chewed on, and one is missing. If you look closely, you'll notice different chapters in this book. There's the chapter called "Sleepless With a Rattle", and then there's one named, "Will Rock For Food", and "Ancient Times: Date Nights". Then there's that last chapter, about something as inconsequential as a sippy cup, for Heaven's sake. Though not attractive, it's a very well-bound book, built to last. Certain pages are dog-eared. It is full of memories that only a mother could love, experiences that made me know how strong I really was, love that made me even more certain of the daily involvement of my Heavenly Father, teachable moments, and milestone celebrations that are among my most precious posessions. But now, it is time to close it. I have no regrets. I have peace about where our family is and have felt the guiding hand of God every step of the way. But this is the end of this season.
Picturing me taking my one last swig...
As I sit there, in the soft lamplight in a quiet house, while everyone is sleeping, I am ready to say goodbye. I must prepare my heart for what is next. I must ready myself and my life for the next season that God has for my family, for the fresh page to write upon, for the brand new book in which to chronicle my continuing journey as a mother. With prayers that have no words welling up in my heart, and tears that have their source in both joy and sadness upon my cheeks, with gratitude that makes me feel among the richest and most blessed of women, I close the book. I am saying goodbye to those wild days and to the particular brand of joy that surrounded them.
It is time to embrace what's around the bend and acknowledge that the best is yet to come.
I guess, without a lid on my cup, I can heartily drink to that.