Last week, I walked my 3-year-old — the youngest of my four children — into preschool for the very first time. I helped her hang up her backpack. I kissed her cheek. I hung back outside the door as she shyly made her way into the room with the lure of the toy corner calling.
Once I dutifully signed her in, I ran like hell to the parking lot.
For the first time in almost 10 years, I have four full hours of child-free time during the week. Frankly, I think it’s the only thing keeping me going right now. My older three children all started school this year, and with my third child now in kindergarten, it’s just me and the youngest left at home.
Before school started, I was practically giddy with the thought of having “just” one kid at home. The things I would accomplish! The fun we would have! The adventures we would go on!
I imagined a fall stretching ahead of us full of giggles and cuddles on the couch. I dreamed of trips to the library together where I could finally get some real work done. After a decade of this working-at-home-with-kids stuff, I figured one kid would be a breeze. Heck, I probably wouldn’t even know what to do with myself! I’d be so free and unencumbered and relaxed!
Well, part of my vision came true: The part where I didn’t know what to do with myself. Because, you guys, having “just” one kid at home is infinitely harder than having four kids at home.
Let’s just say that the first week back to school was a rude awakening. Don’t get me wrong, I love and adore my 3-year-old. She is the sweetest little thing. While I genuinely enjoy being with her, I’m kind of at a loss as to what the heck to do with her all day. In the mornings, I get a little work done while she eats breakfast and watches a show. We craft, clean up together, and do some chores. Then we have lunch, play outside, and read. It feels like we do all the things and I’m exhausted. I look at the clock and it’s only 1PM. In her sweetest little voice she asks, “What do you want to do now, Mama?”
I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO NOW, CHILD.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I severely underestimated how much her siblings help to keep her entertained. She’s the youngest, so she’s used to people fawning over her. She’s accustomed to the older kids leading the way and making up the games. But now that they are gone, she’s looking to me as the replacement playmate … and um, Mama don’t play. Call me horrible if you will, but play never been one of my strengths as a mother. Even if it was, no one can play Barbies for eight hours straight. There’s also the small fact that she doesn’t nap, so by the time the afternoon hits, it feels like endless hours stretch ahead of us. Truthfully, I’m at a complete loss as to how this can feel so hard.
My youngest is so bored and lost without her siblings that she is literally on my heels all day long. It’s as though she made a vow to herself to never let me out of her sight. Every time I turn around, I trip over her. If I step into another room to grab something, she’s there. If I try to go to the bathroom, she follows me. If I am out of her line of vision for more than 0.2 seconds (horror of horrors!), she starts sobbing for me. My husband just laughs when I complain to him because the moment her siblings are home, she’s a completely different kid. She’s back in her natural element — happy to be around the chaos and fun again.
I love her, I swear I do, but I am exhausted by having to be constantly “on.” I’m a seasoned mother, after all; I should have known better. I should have realized that she would be bored and that “just” one kid is just as much work as four.
But here I am, feeling like the world’s worst mother because I’ve now become the sort of mother who sprints out of preschool drop-off to relish in the two full hours I get to sit on the couch or perhaps even visit the restroom alone. Ah, the luxuries of my glamorous life!
I feel like I’m starting from scratch all over again. At the same time, I only have two years left with my youngest, so I’m trying my best not to scream with frustration about filling all the hours in the day. I’ll focus instead on enjoying the time I have with my sweet little sidekick while I can … well, except for Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
Those mornings, I am running away as fast I can.