Little Mikey threw up all over the small, windowless bathroom.Three or four times I went in armed with paper towels and good intentions but each time I’d start dry heaving and would have to run out of the room. Eventually I just closed the door and waited for his mother to get home to clean it. She paid twice what any of my other babysitting jobs did and I still couldn’t bring myself to do it. While she drove me home I kept apologizing. She said, “It’s okay. You get to practice with baby spit up and work your way up to bathrooms full of vomit.” That’s when I first learned that there would be many small steps that prepare us for the larger parenting moments. I’m still a good fifteen years or so away from having a completely empty nest (assuming none of the older ones try to move back in before the younger ones move out) But right now, I find myself on a threshold: a baby step toward the empty nest. It started when I registered my youngest child for full-day kindergarten. The first time I found myself in that position I said to my husband, “Maybe we should think about adopting!” and extended my time at home raising babies by another four, then six, then eight years. This time there will be no new babies. This is really it. Once I dropped those registration papers off, I found myself getting lost in watching my last baby singsong her way through putting her boots on. I began spontaneously hugging her with more frequency. A friend of mine told me that when her son was a few months shy of graduating high school, she found herself wanting to spend more time with him, wanting to enjoy every moment with him before he inevitably left her. I experienced this as well; finding myself completely fascinated by this little girl dressing up as a fairy-bride-pirate-ninja (when you’re on your fifth kid that fascination doesn’t happen as frequently). After she started full-day school, I was at the supermarket (alone!) one day and found myself trying to decide which feminine care product might be the best for my oldest daughter. I noticed a mother with a baby strapped to her chest also making a decision for her child because, perhaps a bit ironically, the diapers are kept in the same row as the tampons. Seeing a baby – especially one that was carried the way I carried all of mine – made me smile, but I didn’t feel the need to become that lady clucking, “They grow so fast!” to younger moms yet. I kept waiting for it to hit me: I’d see another mama with a baby in striped pajamas and I wondered if this would be the time I’d suddenly start crying in the produce section. Or maybe it’d hit me on the way home when I passed the playground filled with young parents pushing toddlers on swings. “Guess I’m no longer part of the weekday late morning playground scene,” I’d think to myself, wondering if there was a hint of wistfulness there. But . . . no. No, there was not. I wondered if I’d miss them now that they were all at full day school . . . I didn’t. I thought that maybe I’d be lonely in the bathroom sometimes. Maybe it’s too soon to tell for sure but from what I can tell so far, this going to the bathroom by myself thing is actually pretty nice. I have yet to wish there was a small someone to talk to while I’m on the toilet or in the shower. As a matter of fact, it’s sort of luxurious.
"Getting all the kids off to school, I mean, THAT! That’s the pinnacle right? I mean that’s the GOAL, man!”I ran into a friend and she asked me how I liked being home alone all day. “I don’t want to sound like I hate my kids or anything . . . but I’m pretty much the happiest woman in the world right now.” She, with three young adult children, admonished me immediately. “There’s nothing wrong with that! Getting all the kids off to school, I mean, THAT! That’s the pinnacle right? I mean that’s the GOAL, man!” She was right. This was GOOD. We survived infancy, toddlerhood, and preschool. We unlocked the next level! They’ve taken a step towards becoming independent and educated adults. I’ve begun to wean off a life of being so desperately depended on. It’s okay to celebrate this time! This, I realized, is a baby step of parenting. This is my spit up . . . and from now on I’m going to appreciate it.