I realized today, standing in a gym full of bouncy inflatables and balls and hula hoops, that I am out of place. I’m in limbo. I knew it, in the back of my mind, but I saw it clearly today in the recreation center gym (where everyone has epiphanies, no?).
I’m getting edged out.
It was preschool playtime, and there were mamas and toddlers and babies everywhere. Crawlers crawling. Criers crying. Sweet two-year-olds sharing a snack. Lots of “Watch the baby!” and “We don’t hit!” getting tossed around.
A mom in sweatpants and a ponytail navigated through the door with a stroller and a baby and a toddler and diaper bag.
And it wasn’t me.
She waved to a mom-friend and look relieved to see her, someone who also fought the impossibility of getting out of the house with little ones.
Also was not me.
It WAS me a few years ago, with three kids ages four and under, with the breastfeeding and the lack of sleep and the talk about how great it is to have a traveling potty stashed in the car (which it IS, by the way).
But this year, for the first time, I have two kids in elementary school and a preschooler who was just thanking his lucky stars mom happened upon the rec center when it was open playtime and was like “Oh yeah, this stuff happens” and let him play instead of just running errands.
And I realized that I don’t really know how to close out this young childhood chapter of life. I took it up when my oldest was born and it became part of my identity. I found a place to belong in it – an easy way to relate to other women and converse and set up playdates and talk about the pregnancy of whoever was nearest labor at the time.
As a textbook introvert, becoming a parent gave me an avenue out of myself and into a community that was mostly happy to share and make friends – even if only because they were as desperate not to lose their sanity at home with young children as I was. And, for the most part, I felt like I established a good role and purpose in that community. I belonged there.
I’ve been holding on to it. I don’t want to let it go. Older kids choose their own friends. Older kids do soccer games all weekend and learn “new” words and use social exclusion as leverage (“If you play with her, you can’t play with me”). And, hardest for an introvert who avoids crowds and dreads small talk, is a solid wall of older-kid parents who seem to know exactly how they fit in the picture, while I am still looking for my in-road.
It’s not my place yet. I’ve resisted it. Preschool is my place. Or it was – until I saw the babies and moms and diaper bags today. They’re edging me out. Like water rushing in to fill an open space, they seamlessly close the gap left by my children as they grow and fill it with new babies and new women becoming moms. They take that space; in fact, they have already taken it. And rightly so – it’s their time.
After all – that’s the stuff of life, right? You learn one step but then it’s time for the next.
Which means it’s my time to embrace the place I haven’t wanted to embrace. I have to find a way, some quiet back road, to make a spot for myself in older-kid-land where I bring value and feel valued. Get to know families and learn how to watch our kids grow older. I haven’t found it yet, but it’s time I need to set my heart and my prayers toward it. The water has filled in behind me and I can only go forward.