36 found me late last summer. I was covered up in laundry and to do lists and all of the things moms do. The day came and went and I can’t even remember what we did to celebrate. I do remember how it made me feel. It wasn’t a milestone birthday, but it felt significant to me.
21 brought a covenant more sacred than I understood at the time and it proved to be harder than I’d ever imagined. 25 was a career I didn’t know I wanted and it’s where I began misplacing fulfillment and purpose. 28 ushered in the joy of motherhood, lack of sleep, and a deep understanding of unconditional love. It’s also when fear snuck under the door and quietly began owning a piece of my heart. 30 was a milestone year and my dearest friends made sure it mattered. It’s where I learned what it felt like to belong to others and share in someone else’s joy and heartache. It also brought a baby I didn’t know was missing. He completed our family and opened my heart’s windows once more to the sound of laughter and pure happiness amidst sleepless nights and dirty diapers.
These years stacked up to allow the light in and the breeze began to gently blow through each day. So how then was it that with all of these blessings my 36th year felt so weighty? Now I felt numb, dried up, empty, and a bit lonely.
Time moves fast and it often feels like the responsibility of life can be heavy. It’s a far cry from the feelings of my childhood. Growing up in a small town, I always felt safe, a bit invincible, and very loved. Back then, my dreams changed from day to day, but I believed in every one of them. More importantly, I believed in myself. I wasn’t jaded by failure or hurtful words. I was hopeful. I was happy.
This is not the me that my children know today. They don’t see the lively, confident, optimistic girl I once was. They see a rushed, always behind, never idle, constantly striving mother who is quick to anger and short with patience. They don’t know the hopeful, happy girl of my youth. They’d like her, I’m sure. They’d love to sit in the floor and play with her. They would jump at the chance to have a picnic with her on the back porch. And they’d surely dance in the rain with her … if I let them.
But they don’t know her. I’ve put her away. Tucked her neatly in a drawer as though she were once meaningful and significant, but now a bit tattered and torn. I put out her light thinking it didn’t matter and it wasn’t needed. I was wrong. I wanted to give them consistency and nurturing, but I became a black and white version of myself on auto-pilot. I spent every ounce of energy I had building a life for them instead of with them. I quit doing what made me happy because I was caught up in the tasks of each day. At first it was with the best of intentions. I figured that I could come back to me once I took care of them. I didn’t know how to be me and their mom at the same time. Keeping up with all of it eventually meant letting go of me and so that’s just what I did.
Then one day I realized I wasn’t the one in the photo, at the park, in the pool, or playing the game. I was standing on the outside watching it all happen in front of me – keeping watch, making sure all was well from the sidelines. I looked up and saw them doing life without me. They were soaking up the joys of life and I was keeping time.
At 36, I want to find my way back to me. I want this to be the year I’m in the game. I want these blessings I’ve been given to grow up knowing the real me. The me at 16 who was goofy and awkward. The me at 18 who blasted the Dixie Chicks – “Wide Open Spaces” with the windows down. I want my husband to still see in me his 21-year-old bride nearly 15 years later. I want to spend goofy moments dancing in the kitchen, alongside him, laughing at my ineptitude for cooking and enjoying our sons’ silly personalities.
This summer when 37 comes around, I won’t let it find me so caught up in work and covered in life’s responsibilities. I won’t miss out on the gift of each day. My choices will be different. The role I will play will not be measured and restrained. They’ll see me mixing up all the messy parts of me into my motherhood because that’s what they need and that’s what they’ll remember.
The years and the wrinkles make us who we are, Momma’s. Don’t let the thief of joy tell you otherwise. Play all of the music you want them to remember, take them to the places that made you who you are, show them the movies that moved you, let them see you taking care of you – whatever that looks like. Pour yourself into your roles, but don’t become them. You’re the only one who can be their momma – make sure they know exactly who you are. They’ll be all the better for it!