He won’t fit in this little bike seat much longer. The straps are getting tight, and his legs already reach the footrests. By reach, I mean that I have to finagle his straightened legs past my handlebars in just a way to get them to fit but also not scrape his shins. The neon green of the bike seat has faded and the bright orange padding that covered his tiny steering wheel was stripped away years ago. His two older brothers sat in this once brand-new seat, too, though, each one taking their turn as a toddler as we rode downtown or to the library for story time.
Today, as I pedal my youngest son around our local park, I can’t help but wonder when this motherhood race started feeling shorter than the marathon I first thought it would be.
One day, my youngest son is going to be too big for this bike seat. He will soon be potty trained (praise the Lord). Eventually, he may not want to cuddle up on the couch with me and might roll his eyes when I tell a funny joke in front of his friends. I am starting to see what those veteran moms meant when they stopped me in the grocery store to lovingly say, “Enjoy it now, because it goes fast.” At the time, while my two little boys were throwing a tantrum because I wouldn’t buy them a donut, I couldn’t imagine things going any faster than a snail’s pace.
Back then, the finish line to my motherhood race–the place where grown children and freedom exists–seemed miles away.
I trained for motherhood, knowing deep down in my very soul that it was my destiny. As a child, I spent countless hours caring for my dolls, then lending a hand with my younger cousins, babysitting in high school, and helping friends who had babies before me. I read every book I could get my hands on when I was pregnant but this training didn’t seem to prepare me for the endurance that was required for mothering in those early days.
When they were babies, I gave everything to my boys. My body grew them and nourished them for most of their first year. They became another appendage on the body I didn’t recognize anymore. Strapped in a baby carrier while I grocery shopped or in my arms as I tried to scarf down lunch. They almost never left my side. I was consumed with pumping and spit up and all things baby. Every minute of my day was spent worrying about whether I should let them cry it out or if their weight percentile would increase before the next check-up. When I finally got them to bed at night, I would sit on the couch and scroll through my phone gazing at endless pictures of them. Those exhausting days felt like they would never end.
The finish line was nowhere in sight and, honestly, I wondered why I even got into this race.
With several miles behind me now, it starts to feel like the pace is picking up. I can’t see the end of my mothering duties, but it’s not the marathon I first started. I am getting the sense that my legs can make it and, even though my feet hurt, and my breath is heavy, the finish line is ahead of me. Too far to see, but close enough to imagine.
A sense of freedom is starting to emerge–the freedom I longed for when I had babies at home.
My youngest son is now two and I have recently finished a hot cup of coffee, in one sitting, before it got cold. My oldest son is in second grade which, in a blink now, is going to turn into middle school. I watch my two oldest boys create worlds out of their Legos together and I can’t help but give a little sign. I once prayed that they would leave me alone for five seconds. Now, turning to each other, they don’t seem to need me as their source of entertainment all the time. One day soon I am going to have a real purse again, not a diaper bag but an actual purse, one that is not weighted down by baby wipes and millions of snacks.
On the elementary school scene, I have found myself becoming somewhat of an expert. I know the ins and outs of the pickup line and can advise new moms about the secret parking spots for school events like Open House and early dismissal. I am no longer that scared, clueless kindergarten parent. Instead, I am the one they turn to for help. Juggling school and sports schedules replaces breastfeeding around the clock and playdates. With each mile that passes, my confidence in my mothering abilities grows. I still make mistakes, but what those early days of motherhood have taught me is that they are just bumps in the road.
In the beginning stages of my race, I was so busy trying to run it perfectly that I forgot to breathe, enjoy the scenery, or even check my own pulse. Luckily, I have been cheered on by fans along the sidelines. I had friends lift me up when I was too tired to think. Others dropped off dinners when I was trying to survive those early newborn days or ones brought coffee because “I just thought you could use a little pick-me-up.” There have been shoulders to cry on, ones I never knew I would need. I’ve been fortunate enough to have my own mom coaching me when I struggled with all kinds of motherhood insecurities. My husband, my teammate in this race, has been here too. He learned when to take the screaming baby from my arms or when it was his turn to get up in the wee hours of the morning with our early risers.
This support, this team, keeps me going when I feel like my legs, and sanity, are about to give out.
I try to envision my boys as teenagers. Will my fiercely independent firstborn still have his strong opinions when he is surrounded by his peers? Or will I have to coach him through the awkwardness of high school? Getting in a car with my sons behind the wheel sounds terrifying, but I can see that coming up ahead. The sweet young boys who now call me mommy will shorten my title to a deep-sounding “mom.” These were just my babies learning to walk for the first time, now they are growing into men. Looking back at this motherhood marathon so far, maybe I have been running faster than I thought.
I might reach the finish line sooner than I expect.
Somehow those long days sitting at home with my babies have been transformed into busy afternoons and a calendar full of activities. Eventually, I am going to be the mom of teenagers, watching them go to the high school prom, and sending them off to college and then the real world.
I don’t know how I will feel when I get close to the finish line. Will it be exciting to be able to, “Have nice things again,” as my husband always reminds me? Or will I have regret for the things I wish I had done better? Maybe sadness that it’s over? Do we, as moms, ever truly reach the end?
I always thought I’d be relieved of my motherhood duties when my boys leave for college. My husband made that joke each time we left the hospital with our newborns, “Well, only 18 years until we are done with this one.” I will one day send my boys off into the world as men, but that doesn’t mean I am going to lose my title. As a grandmother maybe I will feel like this is now just a jog-a-thon and I get to participate purely for the support and enjoyment of it.
When I look back at this motherhood race so far, I realize that it might become more of a sprint. I can’t stop the finish line from approaching as quickly as it will come. But year after year, I am learning to slow down the pace and enjoy it a bit more than I had at the start. I do hope when I do get to this so-called end, I can proudly stand on the podium and tell myself I was a good mom, knowing I gave everything I had.
Riding home on my bike, wind in my hair and my son’s little helmet bobbing around in front of me, I start to get a nagging feeling to turn around and go back to my boys as babies; their sweet faces, squishy legs, and that intoxicating newborn smell will forever be ingrained in my memory. Then I see the open road ahead of me and realize that I need to enjoy the place I am in right now because this race is going to come to an end one day and it may be sooner than I want.
Katie Fenske is a mom to three boys and has discovered that in motherhood, “Everyone burns their first pancake.” She is inspiring moms to learn from mistakes, find joy in the mundane and connect through shared stories. You can find Katie on her website, burntpancakes.com, her YouTube Channel: Burnt Pancakes and on Instagram @burntpancakeswithkatie
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