It’s been nearly 13 years since I’ve been on a flight alone. It’s a bit of a strange feeling, like I’m missing something, or someone, or several of them. It’s a good feeling, though, this being alone, having time to reflect on the crazy life I’m so caught up in. It’s been years since I’ve given much thought to bringing along things to do on a flight; with children along, there simply isn’t much time for reading, writing, passing the time in mindless games of my own. In-flight hours have been filled with reading to others, keeping little ones entertained, changing blown-out diapers in impossibly small airplane lavatories. (Is there something about the elevation, or the cabin pressure, that causes the contents of little intestines to erupt with such force? I swear we’ve had an inordinate number of blow-outs on airplanes. It’s now a matter of course to pack extra outfits for the littles, along with zip-lock bags and lots and lots of wipes.)
But there are no littles on this flight with me, at least none of my own. This last year of parenting has felt like a turning of some proverbial corner, or maybe a gentle curve around a bend. After more than a decade of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and diaper changing, it appears that we have left all of those things in the past. My baby just turned four. It’s been a long while since I’ve purchased diapers. Maternity clothes? They’ve been passed on. Everyone dresses themselves. Half of the kids bathe themselves. The kids do nearly all the laundry and a good portion of the dishes. They cook meals. There is a growing independence, a gradual shift in the emotional needs, and it’s strangely wonderful. It’s also a little bittersweet, this growing up. The conversations I have with Peregrine and Poppy are about different things now; their questions are more challenging, requiring a different sort of mental energy as we wade into new waters.
For the first time since I’ve been a mother, I’ve been off on my own for a few days. I felt a bit apprehensive leaving my family early in the morning. I kissed my little ones as they lay sleeping; I snuggled them a bit longer the night before. They’ve been fine, of course, enjoying special time with daddy and lots of fun with Grandparents. As I navigated airports, responsible for no one but myself, I felt strange, like an imposter in a world not quite my own. I realized how I’m accustomed to people seeing my children and how comfortable I’ve been thinking that maybe they don’t see me. I felt like perhaps I’ve managed to fit in with the adults all these years because I’m a mother, but on my own? Surely everyone will see through the facade and realize I’m just pretending to be an adult. It’s not that I’m not confident in my abilities, it’s just that I never quite feel that I fit in. Without my children, I somehow felt unmasked. I realized how much of my life, my identity even, by necessity, has become wrapped up in the nurturing of them. I don’t resent this. This is the life I wanted, and I believe that in the giving of myself I am actually finding who I am created to be. It’s the hard work of shedding oneself that can reveal the beauty hidden within.
I’m nearly home now, after having been away for the last four days. I’m excited to be caught up in the whirlwind of hugs and smiles and happy chatter. I know it will, all too quickly, fade into (often overwhelming) loudness, and arguing, and crazy-making wildness. It’s just part of the package. These days away have been refreshing, and I feel inspired and filled with a renewed hope and vision for my family. At the same time I am reminded of who I am apart from motherhood. I wouldn’t trade these years for anything, and I’m reminded of how quickly they really do go by. I know that someday I will have more time for my own pursuits, but this is a season for pouring myself into the lives of others. I hope I can take the things I’ve learned and look at my children with more understanding, more compassion. I hope we can enter this next decade of parenting, having traded diapers for long conversations, with a sense of adventure and expectancy, excited for what is around the bend!