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At parents’ night before my fourth and youngest daughter was to start preschool, the director told us to try not to cry in front of our kids.

“It can make their transition more difficult,” she told us. “If you need to cry, at least get in your car where they can’t see you!”

I laughed and nodded in agreement with the other moms as we gave one another sympathetic looks – but on the inside I was secretly all like, “Is it okay if I throw rose petals toward the door before I leave skidmarks in the parking lot?!”

Seriously, people. Do you know how desperate I am for a few hours of time to MYSELF?! I have been waiting for this day for so long – the day where I can be completely alone in my own house for even a small pocket of time. I have had at least one little person under my feet for the better part of almost THIRTEEN YEARS.

Don’t get me wrong – I love being a stay-at-home mom, but sometimes you just need a break from being needed. Sometimes you just need a little peace and quiet.

One year ago, our family moved from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, and I have been trying to make our new house feel like home since the day we got here. Not an easy task when you have a toddler demanding your attention and undoing all your efforts behind you like a category 5 hurricane. You know what I’m saying, moms. Kind of hard to hang pictures when your kid is hanging off your leg on the ladder. Literally.

And forget time for yourself. I can’t remember the last time I had lunch with a friend without my smallest friend joining us. I take walks while pushing a stroller. I fold laundry while watching Dora. And my errands take nine times as long as they should (and often involve donut bribery).

Everything I do is based on my daughter’s presence. Everything. And she is always with me.

It’s time for me to reclaim “my own life” and my productivity. I want to catch up around my house and do the projects that I’ve had to save for “someday”. I crave some time to spend on my own terms and do the things that I want to do, even for a few hours.

And she couldn’t be happier to FINALLY go to school like her big sisters. As far as I can tell, this is one big win-win for both of us!

Insert project #1: Going through my fourth daughter’s clothes.

(Yes, this is really how I chose to spend my first bit of free time. Mom thrills.)

I have FIVE HOURS ahead of me on this glorious preschool day. I decide to skip the gym because I’m really going to get a jumpstart on this, you guys. I’m going to knock out this task in no time because no one is around to NEED me. I mean, I have like THREE HUNDRED MINUTES of uninterrupted time in front of me. I can’t think of anything dreamier at this stage of my mom life.

I start by turning on some music – and it’s NOT RADIO DISNEY or TODDLER TUNES! It’s MY music – the stuff I want to listen to!!

This is the greatest day ever.

When I’m done going through the clothes (because it won’t take me that long when I’m solo like this – obviously!), maybe I’ll even watch HGTV while folding laundry! I skip a little at the thought. Adios, Dora!

I then realize I haven’t eaten breakfast yet since I’ve been so busy getting four kids out the door over the past two and a half hours (on three different buses and via one preschool drop-off)… so I eat two (okay, seven) handfuls of chocolate chips and pretzels. No one is around to be influenced by my eating habits at 9:30 am, and Mama is feeling like chocolate on this fabulous day!

Next I get lured to Facebook when an alert pops up that I was tagged in a post (because this is an emergency), and before I know it, I’m scrolling my feed and watching random videos of strangers (how does this always happen?).

Okay, so my productivity isn’t off to the start I imagined – but time to turn that around now. Game on, people. Tick-tock.

Oh wait – we have a dog. A new puppy to be exact. She needs to go out – like, a lot. Okay, done. Back to me and my productivity!

Phone rings… texts come in… time to flip the laundry from the washer to the dryer… what is that awful sound the dryer is making?! I investigate with great skill and knowledge (sarcasm). I decide the answer is a new dryer after 16 years.

I’m getting hungry again. Turns out the chocolate/pretzel choice may not have been so stellar after all. (Don’t say a word.)

Back to my task at hand… is that the dog whining? Dang it.

Okay, here we go! Three hours left before my tiny dictator returns, and I’m going to whip through this!!

I start pulling out clothes that have been jammed in an absurdly large container in her closet for months – some things for over a year. I kept tossing the “too small” items in there over time, and the bin will no longer close.

Not only that, but my daughter keeps finding her way into her itty bitty old clothes, and she attempts to wear these inappropriate items in public because “they’re her favorite.” If it’s been a while since you reasoned with a three-year-old, let’s just say that sometimes you have no choice but to throw up your hands and let her wear the midriff-bearing fleece PJ shirt and skin-tight floods unless you want to lose your freakin’ mind.

Hello Preschool. Hello Mom Freedom! Pick Your Battles!

It was time to get the clothes out of her closet. For both of us. And I could not be more excited to finally get this done!

One by one, I pull things from the bin.

I forgot about that shirt – the one that says, “Tantrums are so last year.” Except when each daughter wore it, the tantrums were still so THIS year. If you asked my youngest daughter what that shirt said when she wore it, she would always point to the words and confidently tell you, “It says, ‘I am silly.’” Right idea. Close enough.

Oh, and there’s my favorite shirt of all time – the “My Mom Rocks” shirt, of course. My oldest daughter insisted on getting that at Target about 10 years ago even though she couldn’t read what it said. Twist my arm, I tossed that puppy right in the cart. Daughter #3 even wore it for her preschool pictures back in the day. (Best pictures ever.) And now, as luck would have it, that awesome shirt will still fit my youngest daughter – it must have gotten mixed up with the “too small” items when we moved.

Well, I will just set that little number aside for more use then…

This really is the greatest day ever, topped off by the return of the famous My Mom Rocks shirt! I love this day and this newfound freedom!

Hello Preschool. Hello Mom Freedom! Favorite Shirt.

I keep pulling adorable little things from the bin… swimsuits with ruffled skirts. Tiny jackets. Striped sweatpants with worn knees.

And the memories come flooding back.

With each item I come across, I can see their little faces… smiling, laughing, eating, crying… the clothes conjure up things I hadn’t thought about in so long. I recall so many pictures of them wearing what I hold in my hands – and moments long forgotten.

A lump forms in my throat.

My work is slower now. I find myself sitting with a tiny white dress in my lap – one that all four daughters wore – and looking out the window.

Is that a tear rolling down my cheek?

This is supposed to be the greatest day ever.

As ready as I am for some “me” time, it’s beginning to hit me that I’m officially closing a chapter in my life. No more babies. No more little ones tagging along everywhere I go. They are all growing up so fast all of a sudden. My oldest two daughters are closer to leaving than coming now, and my third isn’t too far behind.

The shift has started. I am through the thick of it. Those exhausting (yet amazing) days of early motherhood, where you can never take your eyes off the prize, are behind me. It’s so much easier now. I want to high-five myself, really. Preschool – and some time for myself – feels like a reward, like a light at the end of a very long tunnel. A tunnel stretching the length of thirteen years to be exact.

But just for this moment, I want to hang onto my babies a wee bit longer. I want to remember them as they were, when we were just starting out and trying to navigate this whole mother/daughter thing together. We’ve come so far – each of us. And the memories are piling up like the heap of clothing sitting before me now.

Hello Preschoo. Hello Mom Freedrom! Newborn and Mom.

Only twenty minutes are left before I need to pick up my daughter. I didn’t make the progress on the clothes that I thought I would, but I was productive in a much more meaningful way, I suppose.

While I normally find myself getting through my days in a blur of activity, I was able to reflect today on my life as it was… as it is… and as it will be now.

And right here, right now, I feel grateful.

I feel grateful not only for my four precious girls and the time we’ve had together thus far, but I also feel grateful for the opportunities I will have once again for myself – for I am not just a mother. Motherhood shapes me, yes – but it doesn’t completely define who I am.

We hang tight to our memories, but we have to enjoy what is and look forward to what’s to come. That’s just how it works. There’s no other option if we’re choosing to be happy.

So as I close this door, another door is opening for me. And I am so ready for it. I wouldn’t trade the years of constant togetherness for anything, but it’s time. Time for them and time for me. I welcome this next stage in my life, and I’m excited to see what comes with it.

As for the mountain of clothes still before me, I’ll tackle that again on the next preschool day – or not.

I get to decide how I’ll spend that time.

And that, in and of itself, will make it a great day.

………………………………………………

If your child is starting kindergarten soon, don’t miss this post with 10 Things to Think About Before Your Child Starts Kindergarten. It’s one of my most popular posts!

You can find more of my “from the heart” posts here:

How Having One More Baby Has Changed Me as a Mother

I Can Feel It Happening – My Daughter is Slipping Away

Thoughts on Moving: Missing Home and Finding it Again

Thank You Could Never Be Enough: The Liver Transplant that Saved My Mom’s Life

Don’t Be a Hater: Support Your Fellow Women

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