The thing about having two kids is this:
- Even with a sample size of two, it becomes clear pretty quickly that every kid is wildly different and basically nothing you do or don’t do, barring actual abuse or neglect, as a parent really matters at all. I could’ve told you my kids had different personalities from the womb.
- There is no middle child to act as a buffer. This sounds obvious, but: Every milestone for your first child will be the first time you do something – the first time you drop them off at big kid school, the first time they go to a school dance, the first time they go on a date. And every milestone for your second child will be the last time you do something – the last time you nurse them to sleep. The last time you wash a nap mat. The last time you go to a class Halloween party.
I guess I foolishly thought maybe sending a kid off to sleepaway camp would be easier this time around, since I have already lived through it with my older one and knew what to expect, sort of, but it really isn’t. If anything, it’s harder. Because (see point 1) Georgia is a different kid. She is more of a homebody, more attached to me, more a creature of habit. And (see point 2) this is my baby. There are no kids at home to distract me from how much I miss her (although the dogs would happily take my attention in the form of unlimited belly rubs and walks, so I guess that’s some kind of outlet).
I have been grappling all year with the fact that I don’t have young kids anymore. (I really lost a chunk of time/reality to the pandemic, I think; it probably should have hit me sooner, but Georgia officially becoming a middle-schooler this year was quite a reality check.) And as much as I love getting some of my freedom back, I feel like I don’t really know what to do with it at this point. I have been a mom, in one stage or another, for the past 16.5 years.
Although it was always something I wanted, I didn’t exactly go gracefully into motherhood initially. When my older daughter was born, I spent maybe two years reeling at the loss of my identity, the loss of my free time, trying to figure out how to integrate all of the parts of me and what mattered to me into some new maternal self. But by the time I had Georgia, more than five years later, I didn’t know how to be anything but a mother in many ways. So now that my kids are growing – they’ll be in grades 6 and 11 next year, definitely and absolutely not babies – I am undergoing a similar sensation as I did back in 2006: Who am I now?
I will always and forever be a mother, be their mother, but I won’t be decorating cakes with blue frosting and gummy fish and Nerds to look like an aquarium, and I won’t be ordering matching pajamas for them and their American Girl dolls, and I won’t be halving grapes (truth be told, though: I still halve grapes for my 16-year-old and will probably still halve grapes when she is in her 40s if for some reason I serve her grapes when she is in her 40s).
It’s different. It’s an identity shift. I know it’s normal, and I know it’s healthy, but it still stings a bit. Every moment of parenthood is, in some ways, preparing to let go. Letting go is your ultimate goal – and also your deepest sorrow, all at once.
“It’s only four days, baby,” my husband tells me about Georgia’s camp experience.
And he’s right. And he’s wrong.
It’s only four days right now, but Georgia bravely climbing into the camp bus, clutching her pillow and trying not to look back at us, is also a dress rehearsal for her leaving the nest for good.
I’m not ready for that, obviously, and neither is she; she’s 11.
But when it comes to camp, somehow she got ready before I was.
I wasn’t prepared for the first time I did a lot of things related to motherhood, but I am even more unprepared for doing them for the last time.
It’s only four days. But it also feels a little bit like forever.