Mother Emeritus

I’m “wife”—I’ve finished that—
That other state—
I’m Czar—I’m “Woman” now—
It’s safer so—

How odd the Girl’s life looks
Behind this soft Eclipse—
I think that Earth feels so
To folks in Heaven—now—

This being comfort—then
That other kind—was pain—
But why compare?
I’m “Wife”! Stop there!

–Emily Dickinson

Strange poem from a woman who never married. I find myself thinking about this one a lot these days, as I review the job I’ve recently finished and pursue the job of making a future. I’m still wife — I’ve not finished that — but my job as mother, as active caretaker for people younger than 18, has come to a close. My daily responsibilities of feeding/washing/counseling/driving/disciplining children have ended. I’m now in a consulting role, available when needed for advice on adulthood, for a reminder of the wealth of love that exists for these three people, for a box of homemade cookies to remind them of home.

Our home. We had a couple of different locations we called home, so it’s hard to nail down a “place” called home. I can see now, “home” was an outgrowth of me, of my desire to give my kids a nest and a base. I see that more clearly now as we have left behind the city where we raised that family, but Tim and I still see ourselves as part of five, of a unit. I think we always will, no matter where we are.

In my job at the music school, I see parents with their kids every day, and have marveled at the multiple jobs the parents have to juggle. Yesterday, I talked to a young mom who stopped to schedule her youngest child for a class while her older child was in a music lesson. She plopped down her Mary Poppins bag, the one every young parent carries, overstuffed with keys and books and critical stuffed animals and stray socks retrieved from the floor of the car and the occasional glasses case and wallet and a half dozen crushed crackers shimmying around the bottom of the bag.

“Sammy, where’s your violin?” she scanned the lobby urgently, “did we leave it upstairs?” sigh.

“If you want,” I said, “You can leave your bag here while you go get it. So you don’t have to lug it up the stairs again.”

She flashed a quick smile, “Thanks,” and she was off, racing her littlest up the stairs in an effort, I am sure, to drain a little of his abundant energy. In a flash, I saw myself in her; chief scheduler, director of school functions and after school activities, driver and comforter and chef and budget officer.

Parents, especially parents of school-aged kids, are in constant motion, and I never had a chance to stop and assess whether I was doing my job effectively. Not so much the driving and juggling, but the hands-on parenting bits; the moments my child was afraid or unsure; when he was sick or hurting; when she was proud and excited. Did I give them what they needed at that moment? Did they have my eyes and my ears, an open heart from which I could feed them love and reassurance? Did I, in between the frantic moments of book reports and birthday parties, attend to the needs they had as developing people?


It’s only now, when I’m done with the nuts and bolts of it, that I fully appreciate what an incredible task it is to raise a child, how taxing it is to build a home they feel safe in, how overwhelming it can be to accomplish so many different goals all at once. It’s like being a one-woman-band walking on a high wire. It’s the Iron Man competition of life; endurance and speed and the ability to perform well enough to survive.

The only measure of success is my relationship with my children, and who they are as people. I don’t count their performance as adults among my successes, but theirs; the lives they choose and pursue are theirs, not mine. But while I’m looking back at that time of intense focus, I’m proud of the work I did, and I’m proud of what I accomplished in my short parenting career. At this point in my life, I’m going to take a moment to pat myself on the back, to feel good about the job I did as a mom. I wasn’t perfect, but I did a helluva job.

Susie’s mom flew down the stairs, brushing hair out of her eyes, and resumed her task of registering her little one for music classes. Folding up her wallet, she turned to her bairn and said “You ready for lunch?” His squeals and capering made her smile contentedly. She hoisted the enormous tote onto her shoulder, shot a quick “thank you” over her shoulder at me, and walked down the hall, holding her son’s hand.

I held a silent thought for her and the other moms and dads traveling through their kids’ childhoods. “You’re doing great, guys.”

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