I watched as women built social network platforms, broadened horizons, and took full advantage of all the internet could offer to further a ministry and build community and encourage creativity and even provide some income for a family. I remembered when I made a decision to be a mother at home nearly a quarter century ago. It wasn't even a decision! I had no regret leaving the professional world behind to stay home with my baby. But this? This online world? It crept in and became big in my life before I really recognized it for what it was.
I found myself chafing. I wanted to be working on my book. Instead, I was plodding through college algebra. I wanted to be researching moving my blog to Wordpress. Instead, I was filling out the teacher, parent, and counselor portions of the Common App. I wanted to be writing a blog series on the The Mission of Motherhood. Instead, I was struggling to oversee a home renovation for which my husband had long planned. I wanted to commit to a speaking engagement. Instead, I knew that I was needed at home (and on the soccer field) because Mike would be traveling. I was frustrated.
Both in real life and in my virtual world, I see exactly what Elizabeth is talking about -- women pursuing opportunities and doing neat things. Sometimes, I admit, I chafe, too. I struggle with the fleeting thought that I've been left behind. I scratch my head, especially, at women who are younger than I am, have more children that I have, maybe they're expecting another baby, maybe on top of all that they're homeschooling and somehow, someway they manage to write books and travel to speaking engagements.
I can't seem to get the laundry done or keep the pantry filled.
And then I blink my eyes, and my priorities come back into focus. My priorites. Not theirs -- not yours. What's under my roof isn't necessarily what's under yours.
And what's under mine?
I've got a five-year-old who got off to a rocky start in kindergarten. All those pesky g's and p's and b's -- who came up with these and why do they all look alike? After a pow wow with his teacher, I fully recognized our school experience with this little guy is going to be 180 degrees different from our experiences with Tim and Kolbe.
He needs me everyday.
I've got my first high schooler. He knuckles down to four and five hours of homework most nights. Now we're adding basketball to the mix.
For very different reasons, he needs me everyday.
I've got a fifth-grader who faces unique challenges and who also runs the risk of being lost in the shuffle as the wheel who rarely squeaks.
He just doesn't seem to need me everyday.
I've got a three-year-old who looks at me and asks, "When will I be a grown up?" I tell her, "Not anytime soon, sweetie pie." She wants to have tea parties and build tall tippy towers with her blocks, and (to the total delight of her mother) she suddenly wants to rocked to sleep at night.
She needs me everyday.
Then, of course, I have a husband, a man who lays his life down for us every. single. day. A man who stays up late and gets up early, a man who painstakingly has the older boys help with every job around the house, a man who carts one of the little people every time he goes out the door.
He needs me everyday.
I married relatively late in life (at 33), and I birthed Ainsley really late in life (at 45). I had Tim, my first, when many of my friends were having their last. Tim's early years were marked by hours and hours hanging out in our backyard with other moms. When this crew of little boys all went off to school, some of my friends went back to school themselves. Others resumed careers they had put on hold to raise children. As for the Dolins, well, we were just getting warmed up. The result is that most of my friends (not all) have lives that look very different from mine.
And I don't have a single regret.
I sat in bed reading Frog on a Log to John and Ainsley, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the little girl with pigtails sitting on my lap and for her rapscallion and totally charming brother curled up on my right. John was the miracle we had pretty much given up on. And then -- Boom! -- along came Ainsley. (Yes, kids, that's how it happens. Watch yourselves, now).
A bunch of my friends finished a half-marathon a week or so ago. Years ago I might have spotted the pictures on Facebook and felt a wave of envy. Look what they did! Why can't I do that? But at this stage in my life, gosh, I'm just so proud of them, thrilled with their accomplishments, happy they're out there supporting one another.
This could be a sign of maturity. I could be growing in detachment. Then again, perhaps I'm just tired. I recognize that I can't juggle as well as some women. And as I approach the half-century mark, I'm (mostly) at peace with this reality.
In the very best sense of what Elizabeth captures, I realize that we are in an intense and crucial stage with our family. I need to be present. I need to put first things first. Some of these are mundane, boring tasks -- chores, really -- but for this family to grow and thrive, the mundane cannot be ignored.
This morning I washed and dried the fabric for the pajama pants Tim will be sewing in Lifeskills Class. I helped John fasten the belt he still struggles with. I made sure Kolbe had his Chapstick, and I tucked the last two of the good cookies into his lunch.
A thousand details go into family life.
One of the oft overlooked details is taking care of me. Barbara Curtis' death shocked many of us. And I am totally with there with Elizabeth who, as an older mother, calculates how old her youngest would be if she, like Barbara, were to die at 62. A year ago I learned I have the early, early stages of the bone disease that has brought my mother so much suffering. The good news is that there is so much that I can do to keep it at bay. The bad news is that I'm doing absolutely none of it. Zip, zero, nada! First things first means taking care of the person who is taking care of everyone else.
Six years ago we received the wrenching news that our neighbor -- a 43 year-old mother of ten -- had died in her sleep with her nursing five-month-old baby lying next to her. We don't know how many years we'll have, but as Elizabeth wrote, "I don't want to spend those years living inside a screen, distracted, disconnected..."
And as I mull and type, mull and type, I hear the sounds of a riot breaking out just feet away. It seems John has absconded with the last plate of ribs. You don't take food from a growing teenage boy.
I'd best go practice what I preach.