What color shower caddy do you want?" I heard her ask from the next aisle over in Target. I should have been crossing off items on the back-to-school shopping list, but instead, I'd gotten distracted with choosing an area rug for Ella's newly made-over tween room. "I guess the gray one," I heard a younger voice reply.
Two minutes later the duo turned the corner into my aisle.
Their cart was already filled with all of the typical dorm-room necessities: twin sheets, plastic storage boxes, a white full length mirror, and some string lights. In my recent outings to Target- particularly during this back-to-school shopping season- I've noticed my attention shifting more to the moms and older daughters. I recognize so much more of myself in the middle-aged woman down the aisle who's dutifully checking off her daughter's college supply list. With a rising 5th grader, her reality seems much more tangible to me than ever before- and certainly more than the mom who just shuffled past me wrangling a very angry toddler. One is simply trying to make it to naptime. The other is trying to make it to move-in day. And me? A friend commented the other day that Jake and I are solidly in the "sweet spot" of parenting- not quite to the teenage years, but far enough out of the itty bitty stage when we felt every bit outnumbered on all levels.
She's absolutely right. Yet, every level of newfound parenting freedom feels a tiny bit disorienting to me. It struck me that I spend most of my time preparing for the waves- so much so that I don't fully recognize or appreciate the breathing space that comes in between.
Almost two weeks ago, I happened to bump into a regular client of mine at our pool. She was maneuvering a stroller, while keeping a sharp eye on her two and five year-olds and balancing a pizza on her hip. I was at first tempted to hand her my own glass of wine, because I'm not so far out of that stage that I don't remember what an accomplishment it was to make it out of the house with three kids under five- not to mention an outing to the pool during witching hour.
"It gets easier, right?" she asked me, half laughing and half weary. And I told her that yes, it does. That one day, she'd be able to come to the pool and not have to hover close by every. single. second. That she could even (gasp!) read a book while they swam, and it wouldn't always feel this exhausting. And then I asked her let me snuggle the baby so she could eat her dinner with both hands. We talked for a few minutes in between requests for snacks, refereeing a dispute between my crew over a pair of goggles, and her pulling the two year-old away from the edge of the pool no less than four times. Two moms in two different parenting stages, but also in full agreement that bedtime couldn't come soon enough. Or the start of school.
So there I stood in the Target aisle- just a few feet down from College Shopping Mom and her daughter, separated by a row of area rugs, and probably only eight years. We exchanged quick smiles before I began to make my way over to the bright yellow bins of composition journals, glue sticks, and sequin covered pencil pouches. But not before I asked her- half laughing, and half weary, "It gets easier, right?"
But I already know the answer.