“It felt like a carousel ride that never stopped. But I didn’t want it to stop.”

Ugh, Get a Life (an almost-empty-nester’s plea to self)

I have become the person I never wanted to become.

When I was a teen, and even a young mom, it irritated then saddened me that my mother didnt have a life outside of us kids. I remember twenty-five years ago — when my firstborn was a baby — talking excitedly to my brother about my children’s book idea. I was a writer, darn-it, had the English degree and years of teaching the high school Hamburger Essay to prove it. That idea lasted about two days. Infants do not respect agendas. When I wasn’t taking care of my newborn, I was IN BED, reclaiming sleep — not writing the next Newbery Medal winner.

In all the many hours and days and weeks and months and years that have followed, I have parented. Hard. Through wiping bottoms (four, to be exact), to wiping tears — from broken toys, broken arms, broken playdates, and broken hearts. Hours of playing Polly Pockets and Candy Land and Thomas the Train progressed to hours of driving the Mom Taxi (a succession of three Honda Odyssey minivans because what else), shuttling budding athletes, musicians, and actors; hauling soccer bags, skis, sets & props, cellos, and dorm room furnishings.

I’ve listened to Barney and Disney, arguments over Legos and backseat car territory, shoebox diorama plans and blanket fort plans. Whining for Webkinz and Barbie cars and Why Can’t I Spend the Night at My Girlfriend’s House? I’ve listened to breathless tales of successful spy missions and schoolyard conspiracies, first crushes and first kisses.

Lots of watching, too. Watching those first steps on the lawn outside the neighborhood pool. Watching Saturday morning YMCA basketball. Watching them learn how to balance on bikes and negotiate playground politics and navigate high school cliques. Watching soccer tournaments and regattas in blazing heat and biting rain. Watching school assemblies and voice recitals and theater performances and orchestra concerts (I didn’t miss one and wouldn’t have it any other way). Watching preschool graduations, middle school graduations, high school graduations, and college graduations.

I still have every program.

And hosting! Blue’s Clues and Dora and Buzz Lightyear parties! American Girl and soccer and Disney Princess parties! Painting parties and science parties (like the one when my son locked us out of the house after the baking soda & vinegar volcanoes exploded). Parties on playgrounds, parties in gyms, parties at pools and parties in the cul-de-sac. Birthday parties, cast parties, Christmas parties, grad parties.

I cooked a lot. Also heated a lot because I hate cooking. Pre-chopped onions and rotisserie chickens were my friends.

I studied a lot. I owned every single What to Expect book. I researched how to introduce bottle feeding and solid foods, recognize rashes and pink eye, treat croupe (steam showers!), remove splinters and ticks, and bandage knees. I read reviews to find the best preschools, the best educational toys and games, the best bike helmets, the best acne creams, the best vacation hotels, the best prom dress stores. I scoured mom blogs for advice on homeschooling, private schooling, and public schooling (yeah, we did all three). I became an expert in things I never wanted to become an expert in — like asthma, mono, ACL surgery, and eating disorders.

It felt like a carousel ride that never stopped, but I didn’t want it to stop. I was exhausted and sometimes anxious, but also exhilarated. I didn’t want to get off that ride.

But now the carousel has slowed and will soon stop. I have one left at home — an independent, high school boy who only emerges from his room to raid the refrigerator. My kids who were my every waking minute are now adults, and three live seven hours from home. It’s disorienting — kind of like when you’re back in your street shoes after you’ve been ice skating or skiing — my feet feel unsteady. I was used to the ride. I loved the ride.

But being a mom ultimately means working yourself out of a job. And I need to find a new one. Or at least a new hobby.

I need to get a life.