A younger relative very thoughtfully asked me recently if having kids was “worth it.” I told her that you get back more than you give up, and it’s absolutely amazing most of the time (except between the hours of 5 p.m. and bedtime). But then I realized — what you get back is so different than what you give up. And that can be hard to reconcile.
Her question made me think about myself before my little people came. The thing is, I’m not sure where that Me went. It makes me sad that often I feel I even lost Me. In college, I finally felt to start like I was becoming someone, a person I liked. (This, after years of feeling as if I didn’t fit anywhere.) Then I was (happily) a person my husband liked. And then I had my kids. And then there wasn’t really a Me anymore, or at least time for Me anymore.
I used to love to read. It was the one thing I would choose over any other activity, even as a child. When I started reading, the world around me would vanish, bad days didn’t matter, nothing mattered, really, if it was a good enough book. I’d stay up until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. reading a great book, and happily suffer through class or work the next day. I can’t read like that anymore. My kids are in my room at 2 a.m. every night, wedged between me and my husband, just so I can get them to go back to sleep. I haven’t read a book in a long time.
I used to try and look nice when my husband got home, back when we had just gotten married and only had each other to worry about. Now I smell like a vintner who bathes in Johnson’s baby lotion and has chicken nugget tangled in her hair, and we barely have time for a kiss hello before someone starts crying or demanding a snack (you just ate dinner!!!!).
I used to like running. I didn’t mind getting up in the dark to run to before work. I liked the quiet time, and how strong I felt. I used to like wearing pencil skirts to work. Now the waistband of my pants cuts into my extra 10 pounds of baby weight while I hold my twins on my lap to read to them before bed. I’m starting to think, now that the twins are almost four, the 10 pounds are never leaving me. And I’m too tired from being woken up every night at 2 a.m. to run.
I used to not think getting a flavored coffee every day at the work cafeteria was a big deal. Now when I have an extra 15 minutes and I stop for coffee and my daughter asks why, I tell her it’s because it is the only thing Mommy gets for herself. All.day.long. It makes me feel like Me again. One hot sip and the sleeplessness and chaos vanish for five blessed seconds.
These are just a few examples of so many small things I used to be able to do without thinking. Recently I had to travel unexpectedly without my family. I had four days of just me to take care of. I’d forgotten what that felt like — to eat when I was hungry, to get dressed on my own time without rushing because someone was screaming, to take a shower without a little head peeking in, to sleep through the night, to stop the car and not unbuckle three car seats to go buy one bottle of water. To ride the elevator without anyone fighting over who was going to push the buttons, to cross the street without worrying if someone was going to bolt in front of a car. I desperately missed my kids and I called them every day. But for a few days, I found enough quiet to consider myself again.
I know that these precious years go so fast. I love my children more than anything. Ever. More than I ever thought I could love anyone. More than I have ever loved myself. They have taught me more than anyone I have ever met, especially about Me. They have forced me to take care, patience, kindness, grace, selflessness, exhaustion, fear, anxiety and love to levels inside myself that I didn’t know existed.
I could write endless platitudes about how losing myself doesn’t matter because I have my children now and I am happy just being Mom. In many ways, that is true, and I would never change a thing. But in some ways, it isn’t completely true. I still miss Me Before Them. I hope that’s okay. I hope she’s still there, somewhere, when I have time to find her again.