Most of my friends are a lot like myself. White, middle class, mothers of young children, living in smallish towns. Generally we all work, some of us not so much in the traditional work structure. We mostly have useful – if not empowering – partners in this gig. Often conversations with these friends revolve around the trials of young childhood, with a peppering of conversation focused on the bigger picture, the future, the better world. I need this solidarity and familiarity. It brings me so much peace to know I’m not alone in struggling at times.
Then I sit out outside next to my neighbors who will graduate their youngest child in less than a week. Their oldest, living in the prime of responsibility-less life, embarks today on a trip to South America for an undetermined amount of time. My neighbor, the father of the family, told me no less than three times last night – just after H boy came running down the street in his skivvies – how quickly this time flies past us.
I believe him.
Throughout my journey we’ve been given gifts of these people, ones not so much like us. We’ve sat at the table with couples in a different season of marriage. I’ve listened to the struggles of parenting teenagers long before I nodded along to Honest Toddler. And now, as we’re on the brink of sending our two oldest into the unknown realms of school, I’m watching parents at the far end send their babies off into the unknown territory of life as an adult. It gives me the simultaneous sense of realizing that what I’m doing right now matters very much in building a foundation for my children while also understanding that what I’m doing right now matters very little in the scheme of the bigger picture of life.
My other-season-of-life friends offer me the pull toward reality. Of course, my reality is my reality. The challenges of bedtime and temper tantrums are a real and valid thing. To dismiss them because “at least you’re not sending them off to college” is completely unfair. I’m not looking to put different stages in competition with each other; rather they offer a gentle harmony to my current situation.
Graduation season, weddings and even funerals temper my life in a way that reminds me that, as I like to say, life will look different in 5 years. Perspective gives me opportunity to enjoy what is without a sense of guilt when I don’t always enjoy what is.
In many ways, when given the gift of perspective, I realize that I don’t have to enjoy certain parts of my life, but I do so with a sense that I won’t get another chance to enjoy them. I won’t keep repeating this stage until it’s fun or I get it right – life will march along no matter what. This is not all that there is. Which is both a frightening and a beautiful thing.