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Now that all my kids are in school, where does that leave me?

Once the carefree days of summer are over—a new chapter begins.

Now that all my kids are in school, where does that leave me?

A new season is fast approaching, and I'm not certain that I'm prepared. Truth be told, I've known this day was coming. I've contemplated it for months, years even. I've dreamed about it. I've spent countless hours trying to wrap my head around the fact that my life is about to take a drastic, inevitable turn.

The narrow road I have traveled over the past eight years is suddenly widening and twisting, dotted with signs, dangerous curves ahead. Once the carefree days of summer are over (replete with endless cries of “I'm bored," multiple interventions, and failed attempts to keep the pantry stocked with snacks), a new chapter begins.

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This will be the first year that all three of my kids will be in school full-time. Perhaps this change is heightened by the fact that my youngest two are twins, so I am losing both of my babies at once. Perhaps I'm overestimating the impact this will actually have on my life. Perhaps I've created the proverbial mountain out of a molehill. Or, perhaps the feeling that this is a pivotal turning point in my life as a stay at home mom is, in fact, spot on.

Regardless, with the impending approach of September comes the age-old existential dilemma: Who am I?

Over the past eight years, I have enjoyed the joy (and sometimes hair-pulling craziness) of watching my children grow, being a part of each milestone, of every achievement and failure. My world has silently shrunk down to being wholly centered around my children.

As the kids have gotten older and changed, so have I. Everyone tells you how quickly time passes when you have kids, but no one warns you that time is also passing for you. I am not the same person I was eight years and three kids ago. I am no longer the career-obsessed, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. office professional that I once was. I would like to believe that that I have been upgraded to someone softer, more nurturing, more patient, more understanding, and more tolerant.

But with that is also a sense that, somewhere along the way, I've lost a bit of me. When someone asked me what the best event of this past year was, it was difficult to think of something that was my accomplishment, rather than my kids,' My identity has become entwined with theirs.

Prior to having kids, I never imagined that I would be a stay at home mom. I expected that I would work and mother, balancing it all in perfect harmony. But the loss of my own mother and the birth of my daughter a year later changed my perspective. I opted out of my well-paying job, a decision supported by my husband, and one I have never regretted. But now the world is opening up, my small bubble ready to burst. I must face the reality that life is changing, whether I'm ready for it or not.

It's difficult to deny this inevitability with the endlessly repeated question from friends, family, and acquaintances: “What are you going to do with all that free time?"

What indeed.

I give the same pat answers I gave when the twins went to part-time kindergarten (and which are all, in fact, true):

  • “I have dreamed of grocery shopping alone."
  • “I'll enjoy having the house clean for more than five minutes."
  • “I will revel in drinking a cup of coffee, blissfully uninterrupted."
  • “I'll volunteer in my kids' classrooms."

But now it seems as though these answers are not enough. “Are you going back to work?" quickly follows.

Don't presume that I haven't spent hours exploring this very question myself. I miss a lot about working – financial independence, adult interaction, positive reinforcement, accessing now dormant parts of my brain.

There is also the guilt of not working. What will people think? When other parents ask at school drop off what I'm doing for the rest of the day, and I smile and shrug my shoulders, will I be judged? Considered lazy? Will I feel as though I have to justify my existence, my purpose in life? Will I find myself slipping into a depression with all this time alone?

If I do choose to return to work, will I be satisfied in my former career? Have I changed so much that that part of me has become irrelevant? I am also hit with the reality that the school day is three hours shorter than the work day and subsequent calculations of the cost of before and after school care, summer vacation, Christmas break, spring break, sick days, and all those days off in between.

I am approaching a curve in the road, unable to see what lies ahead. So I continue to hold on tight to these last fleeting days of summer, to my life as I know it. I feel an impending sense of loss, but also a tingle of excitement as I look to the future, to exploring the person I want to become—the new version of me—and to writing a new chapter, whatever it may be.

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This piece was originally published on Mamalode.

If you're contemplating the road back to work, our podcast “Where Was I…" provides a roughly-sketched road map for anyone wishing to return to work after taking a career break to care for their young children.

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