Nothing feels quite right when you're apart from your child. Your arms feel useless, your purse too light, your attention span too long. Everything's just off.
Mothers are used to carrying their child, their child's favorite toy, a blanket, a sippy cup, and a set of keys in one arm while opening doors and hauling diaper bags and laptop cases with the other. They're no stranger to digging through layers of daycare reports, day-old sippy cups of juice, diapers, wipes, blocks, and tiny toy cars just to find their cell phone — which is nestled in a bed of crushed Cheerios at the bottom of their purse. Moms are accustomed to keeping one eye on the friend with whom they're conversing over lunch and the other eye, both arms, and possibly a leg on their toddler, who can no longer be contained by a car seat or high chair in public places.
It's a shock, at first — the transition from caring for yourself to caring for yourself plus this tiny busy creature who needs everything, constantly, all day, every day. But shock slowly turns into reality and reality slowly turns into acceptance and acceptance slowly turns into the inability to imagine a life where you don't have a tiny busy creature demanding things of you every second of the day.
At first you hate it, but then you begin to love it. Crave it, even. Your child wants to be near you, on you, touching you, grabbing things from you, giving things to you. And this bond, which began to form even before your baby's birth, is made stronger with each morning hug, lovingly prepared meal, tuck of a blanket, kiss of a scraped knee, and midnight snuggle.
It's exhausting. But each of these moments is an investment in your child. In their lifelong happiness and success — and, by proxy, yours, too. So you do it, day in and day out. You feed, you clothe, you carry unbelievable amounts of stuff with you everywhere you go and only halfway listen to your friends at lunch. Motherhood becomes who you are. Not just what you do, but who you are. Try as you may to avoid that cliche, you can't. This job is all-consuming. It keeps no hours and has no limits.
One day — all too soon, I imagine — my son will be grown. At college. Working. In love. Married. Having babies of his own. And when that day comes, it will just be me and Nate. And hopefully a dog, because I don't think I can live with that kind of quiet anymore.
It's easy to invest in our children, because they demand it. Loudly. Physically. And from the moment those shrieking pink bundles are placed in our arms, our hearts demand it, too. We love them, and we would do anything, anything, to ensure their safety and happiness.
When you spend your life investing in your children, as mothers inevitably do, it's easy to overlook the investment that started it all — your marriage.
I don't want to look over at Nate on the day our last child leaves for college and wonder who he's become. Or why I married him. Or what we're going to do now that it's just the two of us. I want to look at him and feel a deeper, more weathered version of the love I had for him the day our first child was born. I want to look in his eyes and see not just our past, but also our future. I want to look at him and smile mischievously because now we can make out whenever and wherever we want to, and I can finally buy a white couch.
More than likely I'll be lying in a heap on the floor sobbing, but when I finally stand up, those are the things I want to feel. Love for my husband. A still-strong connection to the man I married all those years ago. Excitement for a new chapter in our lives together.
Our children will always need us, in one form or another. And I know the investment I'm making in Calvin right now is a good one. But if I'm putting all of my love, attention, and energy into my son — and letting my marriage sit idly by during these busy years as a young mom — what kind of return can I expect from my relationship with Nate once Calvin is grown?
It happens all the time: the kids grow up, the parents break up. I don't want that to be our story.
Which is why, a few times a year, we take a break from our roles as Mom and Dad. Calvin goes to visit Grandma and Papa, or Nana and G-Pop come to stay, and Nate and I sneak away. It's never easy; we're full-time working parents, and the time we have with Calvin is limited and so precious. But we do it anyway, because it's important. It's an investment in us. In the foundation of our family. In our future together.
And during that time away from my child, my purse is lighter and my attention span is longer. But my arms aren't useless.
They're wrapped around the one I loved first.