“Too soon old and too late smart.”
My father said those words many times as I was growing up. I never really understood them.
Mother’s Day was last weekend. I have to admit, Mother’s Day used to be so different when all my little chicks lived in the nest. I’m not saying this past Sunday wasn’t nice–it was. Church was good, lunch with my husband and oldest at a favorite Italian restaurant–the same restaurant where my daughter and new son-in-law had their small family wedding reception three months ago. Perhaps that is the reason that so many thoughts and memories flooded my mind that day. Regardless, even though my two middle kids weren’t here to celebrate and my youngest has decided that church isn’t really for her, it was still a good day.
I couldn’t help but remember, though, the years that were spent with all four kids at home. How busy those years were! There was always piles of laundry that needed to be washed, dried, folded, and put away. Dinners were complicated–I think the only dinner that pleased everyone was chicken strips and fries. Mornings were a flurry of getting lunches made, papers signed, backpacks loaded and kids out the door. That stopped when we started homeschooling–which brought a bunch of new busyness with it. Now I had four sets of lesson plans to prepare, papers and tests to grade, book reports to check, and everything else that comes with being a full time teacher to kids in four different grades AND a full time mom and wife with a house to keep, the above laundry still piling up, grocery shopping, and being the main taxi driver for activities. Speaking of activities–we had more than our share to get to. There was softball, tee-ball, machine pitch baseball, soccer, karate, swimming, marching band, day camps, sports camps, volleyball, band, orchestra, voice lessons, theatre, nature hikes, track…just typing that makes me wonder how I managed to stay sane!
Those things are done now. The kids who still live at home both have driver’s licenses and cars. And the days of any of them living at home are quickly coming to an end. I’ve seen this coming for a while. I thought I would look back and feel a sense of relief that those extremely busy and stressful days were done.
I was wrong.
Instead, I look back and see all the mistakes I made–all my failures, impatience, frustration–and they haunt me. I know now I should have done many things SO differently.
That isn’t really what haunts me the most though.
What really bothers me goes to the very core of one decision made years ago–the decision that I wanted to be a stay at home mom. I wanted this long before marriage was even on my horizon. I married someone who didn’t mind being the sole provider. Living on one income is difficult in and of itself. Throw in homeschooling and the cost of materials and the myriad of activities we let our kids do (and yes, I would change that if given the opportunity) and more often than not, one income didn’t cut it. I did work part time jobs on and off but for the most part I was a full time mom/teacher.
Was that the right decision? I wish I could say with all of my heart, “Yes!” But I can’t. I didn’t really start to question it until the high school years. While so many of our kids’ friends got licenses AND cars, our kids got only licenses. We didn’t have the money to buy them a car. While most of their friends got nice spring break trips, we had one family vacation in all the years we have been married. One. And it wasn’t to Florida or Mexico or anywhere tropical. It was to Wisconsin Dells. Was it fun? Yes. Well, except for the second degree burns sustained by our then 3 year old because mom forgot to reapply sunscreen–more guilt. Do they remember it? Not really. There are some memories but for the most part, they were too young to even really enjoy it.
Now, as they are grown and moving out and getting married, how I wish we had extra money to give for reliable vehicles, home goods, or even a house. (Yes, I know someone who bought their kid a starter house and many others who have contributed to a down payment) Seven months ago, I sat in the car and sobbed because we didn’t have the money to buy our daughter the wedding dress she wanted. She wasn’t even asking for one of those expensive “Say yes to the dress” dresses. I felt–and feel–like the world’s worst mom.
My dad was right. I learned too late that kids don’t need to be involved in every activity available. I learned too late that putting money away for future expenses is a good idea. I learned too late that giving kids everything they want (almost at least) all the time doesn’t really pay off in the long run. Wisdom comes with age.
But it doesn’t do much good by then.