I scan the shelf at our neighborhood’s public library until I find the book I had placed on hold. I grab it with a sense of accomplishment: this morning is for running errands and getting things done. This is the third stop on my list, and I relish how productive I can be on a morning like this. A morning without kids in tow.
I take advantage of the freedom to let my eyes skim over the spines of books on other shelves, leisurely leafing through one or two. Movement catches my eye, and I glance over my shoulder to the community room behind large glass doors. An energetic librarian leads a group of parents and tots in a song with actions. My eyes scan the room and I spot two of my friends. As my hand juts up to wave, I realize they won’t notice me. They are absorbed in watching their little ones waving colourful scarves in the air.
I clutch the book to my chest as I watch for a few more minutes. A year ago, I would have been on the other side of the glass, dancing, and singing, and laughing with my son.
I feel my chest tighten as I remember the mornings I spent in that room with all three of my children over the years. How we would pack the stroller with everything we might need to be away from home for an hour: diapers and cheerios and water bottles. Then we’d walk the 10 minutes through the neighborhood, the older two stopping to hop in a puddle, wave to a cat lounging in a window, or pick up a special stick that we’d later add to the ever-growing collection on our back step. We’d roll the stroller right into the library, park it along the wall with all of the others, and find a spot on the rainbow patterned carpet.
A trip to the library was one of the ways we’d fill those long days together.
In the last weeks of summer, when the daylight started to dwindle, my youngest and I read books about kindergarten. His older sisters told him stories of what to expect. He opened the card his new teacher mailed to him, the one that told him how excited she was to finally have him in her class. I put all of my energy into making sure he was ready.
When school started in the fall, I marked the transition for my kids by taking their pictures with signs that proudly proclaimed which grade they were starting. They wore their new first day of school outfits and hugged me goodbye before stepping into their classrooms.
I walked home, stepped into my empty house, and stood in the living room, breathing the silence. It felt glorious. I had been looking forward to these mornings alone for months. I had long dreamed of what I might do with all of this space.
But I hadn’t realized that in watching those other moms and their younger kids in the library, I would suddenly feel so sad.
As I stand outside the program room, looking in at scarves waving in chubby fists, it hits me that I don’t belong in there anymore. I’m in the phase of field trip forms, home reading books, and PTA meetings, not parent and tot library programs where we learn sign language and songs about bumblebees.
I scan my library card at the kiosk and check out the book I’d come for. I drive away in my van, knowing I can squeeze in a stop at the post office before I need to pick up my son from kindergarten.
As I drop a letter into the mail slot, I’m reminded that we have been intentional to help our kids mark their significant transitions. We’ve celebrated milestones from the first time they roll over to their first steps to starting school. They have memory bins stuffed with important keepsakes from each year of their lives, marks on the wall documenting their growth, and photos filling the albums on our computer.
But somehow, I’ve slipped into new stages of parenting without acknowledging my own transitions. I am not the same mom I was when my oldest was a baby. I’m more relaxed, more self-aware, and somehow stronger. There are no marks on the wall for me, but not because I haven’t grown and changed.
There is power in naming something: could it be important for us, as moms, to name the chapters for ourselves, to somehow mark the passing from one stage of mothering into the next? Can we think of small, simple ways to give ourselves space to say goodbye when a stage of parenting ends?
I arrive home from my errands just in time to get back to the school. My son and I hold hands as we walk home, his big-kid backpack hanging off his shoulders. At lunch, I watch him dip his grilled cheese in ketchup and listen as he tells me all about his morning. I smile as I reflect on how much he’s grown, how much older he seems from a year ago when we sang those library songs. And I’m so thankful for this stage of parenting, even if a bit of sadness lingers that we’re no longer waving scarves at the library.
Julianne Gilchrist is a mom to three, a spiritual director, speaker, and writer. She also works with The Studion School for Spiritual Direction. In all she does, she tries to create space for others to slow down, take a deep breath, and notice God’s presence in their everyday lives. You can find her at juliannegilchrist.com