Seizing the Last of the Preschool Years
by Chrystal Rambarath
1,000 Saturdays. Somewhere, at around the time I was becoming a mother for the first time, I read that we have 1,000 Saturdays until we give our children to the world, trusting that we did the best job possible to prepare them for adulthood. Almost six years into being a parent, I have tried to treasure every Saturday, either by whisking my children off on a new adventure, or by spending a lazy family day in and around our home. Suddenly, on the twilight of my elder child’s pre-school years, I grasp how fleeting this precious time is.
Looking back, I wished that I had enjoyed these early years more. But nothing prepared me for an unforgiving world which often cruelly scorned mothers for choosing to give themselves wholly to motherhood. Regardless of the educational levels I had attained, the professional work I did, or the places to which I had traveled, my self indulgence in enjoying the blissful, though often tedious days of mothering my children, was too often undermined, taken for granted, or seen as wasted potential.
I often felt lost and alone, and without the support or example I needed, I twice went back to the professional world. Both experiences were refreshing in their own way - the first even pulled me from the depths of postpartum depression. Both experiences also allayed my fears about being able to offer my children every possible opportunity and about saving for emergencies, retirement, and college funds.
However, with a husband who works an overnight work schedule, a traditional and uncompromising 9 to 5 workday took its toll on my marriage, my family life, and my own satisfaction with how my children's childhood was unfolding. I did not relish the solo task of orchestrating the early morning routine and rush to school and work, only to rush home for the two hour marathon of a family dinner, baths, books, and bedtime. I was getting the two most difficult bookends of my children's day, and often had to endure many times a two hour endeavor of holding my children to lull them into sleep. This double work shift is a phenomenon familiar to all mothers who work and remain their children’s primary caregiver. We know, too, the impossible task of trying to deliver a stellar performance at work and at home. But, inevitability, something has to give.
On the surface, to the naked eye, our lives look perfect or at least to be working. My children were well adjusted and thriving in their preschool, I was settled in my job at a mission-driven organization, earning a comfortable salary and contributing, albeit in an indirect way, to a cause that I strongly believed in - early children's education. But I felt more than saw the cracks in my life. I was uncomfortable and concerned about my children spending almost 9 hours a day at a preschool, the thrown together dinners, a less than orderly home, and the baskets of laundry, folded but always waiting to be put away. Most of all, I felt the distance between my husband and me - an experience that felt like shift parenting and a relationship that I likened to ships passing in the night. Because of the strains on our family life, I was also concerned that our children were being denied the experience of literally having both their parents at the same time.
Weighing the strains on my family life, I acknowledged my dissatisfaction with my role at work, knowing that I could be more challenged. I was unsettled professionally and personally and felt myself slipping into despair. It was the sudden realization that my elder child would enter kindergarten in a matter of months and that my younger child would follow that year after, that drew me up short.
Though I think that I had an emotional breakdown, I know that I thought long and hard about my decision. The logical, risk-averse person that I am, decided to jump off a professional cliff. If I was not doing what I wanted to be doing professionally, and if I wanted to savor the last few moments of my children's preschool years, and put the emotional and time investment into my family, then I needed to leave my job. In the most polite resignation letter, I did just that, and spent almost three conscientious weeks trying to make the transition at work smooth as possible.
Since then, I cannot deny that I experienced periods of panic, and I continue to worry about emergency funds, retirement accounts, and college funds. However, even as I carefully consider every purchase I make now that we are a single income household, I know that I am infinitely fortunate to even have the luxury of making this decision. I know many women and parents do not. I am grateful, and only wish I had realized and seized upon this opportunity sooner.
Still, there is no time like the present. My younger child, my son, is home with me while, my daughter wraps up preschool. I never had the privilege of caring for my son alone, and though it feels odd that my daughter is not with us, I am enjoying my beautiful boy. My mornings start with breakfast for three, taking my daughter to school, followed by a trip to the park and library story times, and afternoons spent reading as many books that we can carry from the library or an working on a project. I marvel at my son's ability to learn and to create as I teach him, read with him, and play with him. While my biggest struggle is his unwillingness to nap, it is a small price to pay for the short time I have left with him alone. When my daughter is done with school, I am planning a summer of activities and traveling as a family, and treasuring this too short period in our lives.
And this time, I am ignoring all the voices that in the past did not recognize the value of the early years of parenthood, or that cast doubt on my value to the world. I know that I am changing the world, by being the best mother and teacher to my children. I will do what is needed to allay my insecurities and disquiet. I will hold my depression at bay as I revel in my children's joys and laughter. I will also ignore the impulses to immediately tend to every dirty dish, the laundry that inevitably piles up, and the countless never ending tasks that come with running a home - those things can wait, but holding my child and being truly present with and for him cannot.
They also say that hindsight is 20/20...if I only knew then what I know now... Now, I am focused. I know that this time is oh-so-precious and fleeting. So I ignore the naysayers, and I give myself to the most amazing, rewarding job in the world. In the course seizing the last of my children’s preschool years, I am sure I will find what I am meant to be.
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