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Lifestyles

May 28, 2011

As the kids' needs for Mom change, Mom's life changes

Now that both kids are in school, all of the thankless work from the last eight years is starting to pay off. As a result, I don't see as many other people as I used to.

It's not that I've finally committed to being a full-time hermit, although this winter made me have a good long think about the benefits of never leaving my house.

Nor is it that I don't have friends.

At least, I'm pretty sure I have friends _ but I haven't seen them for a while. I'm assuming they still exist.

Instead, I've entered a stage of parenting where my kids seem to need me in a less immediate and physical way. Which isn't to say I'm not needed, just that the job description has changed.

From the time they were born until the time they hit kindergarten, both the Dude and the Diva's lives revolved around where their parents were at any given moment. Ideally, one of us would be within arm's reach of them to provide snacks or hugs the instant they were required, no matter if we were at home, in the big world or at a friend's house.

Even when they were being cared for by other lovely, responsible adults, my preschoolers' needs were never far from my mind. And this state of constant vigilance has a way of draining the life right out of you. The best way to refill that life, barring frequent trips to Aruba, is to spend time with other parents who are in that same stage of the game.

Because you forget, really, what those first few years of life are like once you get past them. Talking to someone with older kids is great because they give you hope for the future.

But only someone in the meat of the very young child ordeal can fully commiserate with how simultaneously boring and exciting the whole thing can be.

You wind up seeing each other a lot. Playdates at that age require a parent on hand. Besides, another adult in the house really brightens up your day when you've sung "Wheels on the Bus" for the 96th time.

But as the kids get older, your physical presence is required less. Now, I tend to only see other parents when dropping kids off or picking them up. Plus, my kids have their own complicated social lives that do not include me.

Nor, frankly, do I really want to be involved in them. My almost-9-year-old, her friends and I have markedly different interests.

For example, I simply want Justin Bieber to get his hair out of his eyes because it's dangerous to walk around when you can't see clearly.

It's also hard to see your grown-up friends when both you and they are always traveling and making up for all of the trips you didn't take because going too far with small kids is a pain in the rear. If nothing else, older kids can schlep their own junk.

We plan to take full advantage of this family trip sweet spot for as long as we can.

Once the Diva hits puberty, she'll simply resent being torn away from all of her friends who are far cooler than her family could ever hope to be. But, now, she relishes a chance to go someplace new, especially if there's a pool.

Ditto the Boy.

The truth is that I'm enjoying my kids a lot more now. Not that I didn't love them before. Not that I didn't want them around when they were younger.

It's just that those younger years are so much work, where you are constantly trying to stay on top of both quality nurturing and personal hygiene.

Now, however, the Boy and the Diva can fend for themselves for the most part. They can finally articulate what is going on in their inner worlds _ and those worlds are by equal parts fascinating and amusing.

Like, for example, the Boy's creative problem-solving when thunderstorms strike. Rather than cower in a grown-up's lap until the turbulent weather passes, which involved a fair number of tears and shrieks, he simply wraps his blanket around his head like a turban. On blustery nights, he falls asleep that way, like a king of some faraway land.

While part of me misses having that shivering child clinging to me, most of me is thrilled that he's learning how to take care of himself.

And, yes, part of me also misses hanging out with other parents for hours on end because it was such a welcome change of routine, most of me is thrilled that I can now spend the bulk of that time going places and doing things _ both with my kids and without _ that were insurmountably difficult just last year and well-nigh impossible two years ago.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of "Sweater Quest," last year. Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/parentingimperfect.

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