Before I had kids, I did the usual stuff. Stayed up late. Slept in. Went out at night at a moment’s notice because I didn’t have to make elaborate arrangements to do so. I worked all day at a job I loved and spent most of my free time doing whatever I wanted.
Mostly, I don’t miss my life before my children, because it was a life without my children in it. But sometimes – the smallest, most shameful times, like tonight – I do.
My husband and I were enjoying our weekly dinner with my best friend’s family, who endured weekend after weekend of co-habitation when she and I were teenagers. I say endured because of all of the giggling that went on and all of the glitter we ground into their carpet, but they have been gracious and kind for as long as I have known them. They have gone on to open their arms to me and mine as an adult, and Miss E absolutely loves them.
I spent the evening doing what I do so often now: trying to eat and talk between reminding Miss E to be kind, to be gentle, to be grateful. Between cuddling Little Sister, nursing, changing diapers, wiping noses. At some point most of the younger folks, including my husband, had gone downstairs to play a video game, but Little Sister was hungry, it was getting late, and I felt badly that Miss E was running wild.
I got as much of a handle on the situation as I could and went downstairs to let my husband know that we needed to get going.
The lights were down. There was laughter and chatter and silly jokes. The glow of the television lit the faces of my best friend, her brother, her cousins, all of whom I’d grown up with. Everybody was smiling. I remembered similar nights in that basement, when we’d stay up too late putting on costumes, playing games, watching movies. There were a couple of times we heard feet on the stairs and someone came down to tell us to go to bed.
Now I’m that someone.
I came out of the shadows like the greatest of buzz kills to collect my husband and say my goodbyes. I kissed my best friend on the top of her head and waited until we were in the car to cry.
It’s hard to have small children. I think I know that it is and then something happens – like not being able to stay and play even for a little bit because it’s more than an hour past bedtime and they’ll make me pay for every minute, because if I’m not minding my kids somebody else has to and it doesn’t feel fair to pass the buck even when they’re willing – and it’s like the bottom drops out of my world. I see a new one, the real one, where I spend a great part of my time doing the really important – but often very tedious and trying – work of raising children. I feel irrelevant and deeply sad. I think that I used to have things to say that weren’t about putting off potty training because I’m too tired to deal with it. I didn’t used to be so tired all the time.
“Goodbye, adults,” they said as we left the basement, their words one hundred percent full of love and frivolity and not meant in the least to hurt.
But I do.
And I really shouldn’t, because it’s not like I would change a single thing about our choices to start and grow our family.
But I still do.