After six years of harried, round-the-clock parenting of two children born just a year apart, I couldn’t wait for my youngest to start elementary school.
We were fortunate to be part of a wonderful preschool, which included a half-day kindergarten, so my kids did not go to school past noon until they started first grade. And let’s face it, those short preschool hours were mostly spent in the grocery store or my laundry room.
So on my son’s highly anticipated first day of first grade, I had envisioned endless days of quality “me” time, productivity, and taking a minute to figure out just what I wanted to do with my life.
Instead, I deposited my big kids in their new classrooms, came home, sat on the couch, and thought, “Now what?”
I had not really thought about what I wanted for myself in so many years, so I did not know where to start. I had not worked for more than seven years, and my most finely honed skills at that point were diaper changing and construction paper cutting. Even with a master’s degree, I felt highly unemployable.
Jokes aside, I have been fortunate to stay home with my children while my husband earns a paycheck. But I had fallen into the trap of intertwining my identity so tightly with my children’s I wasn’t sure I could disentangle. It was terrifying.
Those first few months were rocky. I’m not going to lie. Many days, I watched hours of TV while the kids were at school, ate too much chocolate, and took naps midday. I was slipping into depression, and quickly. I drank too much wine at night, stopped seeing friends regularly, and generally had no direction in my life.
In late fall, I went to the doctor for a physical, ended up bawling in her office when she asked me what made me happy, and discovered I had gained more weight than I care to share. Wake up call? For sure. But I still wasn’t brave enough to make any real changes.
After eating and drinking my way through the holidays, I decided it was time to put on my big girl pants, literally, and turn things around. I had been tutoring a child at our school in reading and found real enjoyment in it, so I volunteered to teach Junior Great Books in my daughter’s class. Reaching out to children other than my own was rewarding, and became an important part of my week.
A friend asked me to start playing tennis with her, which had been high on my list of things to get back to once my kids were bigger, and I finally took her up on it. We took some lessons together and ended up joining a team, something I couldn’t have imagined six months earlier. I started exercising regularly, lost some weight, and the fog began to clear.
Once I began to reclaim myself, it became easier to choose to take care of myself. I opted not to go on school field trips because I had tennis matches. Money I normally would have spent on wine and convenient dinners at local Tex-Mex restaurants instead went to my expensive yet super healthy and effective nutrition plan. I lost 25 pounds, and found new energy to be a better mother and wife.
My kids recognize my new confidence and I hope have gained new respect for me. For the first time in years, I’m finding the space to write, explore my own needs, and take care of myself physically and emotionally.
We moms have to nurture ourselves in order to effectively nurture others.
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