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Jill Orr talks about going through “the middle.”
I’ve been writing the “Mommy Chronicles” column in this magazine for over six years. In that time, I’ve reflected upon everything from tantrums to tournaments, food issues to friendships and milestones to minivans. Because my kids were relatively young when I started writing about them, many of the issues I explored are now nothing but funny memories cleansed of any unpleasantness by the rose gold light of nostalgia. That daughter’s tantrum on a crowded airplane that culminated in a spectacular vomit show? Hilarious! When my son put his hands on his hips every night for six weeks and said, “No, Mommy, I am not going to brush my teeth. I am never going to brush my teeth!” Charming! The way my husband gets to be the Super Terrific Happy Fun guy, which leaves me the role of Warden McPunish Pants? Okay, that one still stings a bit. But you get the idea. Once you make it through to the other side of something— in this case parenting little kids— perspectives can change.
Change seems to be the only constant in this parenting gig. My children are no longer little. My role in their lives is evolving and in many ways shrinking slowly and inevitably as it should. I’d say that at the moment, I am smack dab in the middle of the parenting life cycle, somewhere between essential and superfluous. My perspective as their mother, therefore, is also shifting. Where I once felt like the relentless pressure of mothering would never end, I now fear the day that it will. It’s a weird place to be and so different from even just a few years ago.
This is all to say that this column will be making a slight change in focus to reflect this new chapter. What has been called the “Mommy Chronicles” is now going to be called “Mom in the Middle,” a place to examine (and hopefully find the funny in) the issues that face those of us who are trying to find our way through this middle phase of parenting. A phase that in many ways is just like middle school—fraught with anxiety, insecurities and drama. It’s a place where we cling to the past, afraid to let go, even though we know that letting go is the only way to set our kids on the path forward. Here, the stakes are higher, the worries bigger and for better or worse, there is a light at the end of this long, magical, frustrating, all-consuming, joy-and-pain-filled tunnel called parenting.
So what is “the middle?”
If having young children is “all joy and no fun” as Jennifer Senior purports in her 2014 book by that title, then having kids in the middle is “all joy and lots of fun punctuated by moments of intense frustration, abject fear and the simultaneous desire to hug and ring your child’s neck. Having children in the middle not only forces us back into the rocky waters of adolescence (which is a bit like revisiting a recurrent nightmare), but it brings us face to face with our own parenting mortality. Just as we’ve gotten used to being parents, the middle comes along to remind us that we don’t get to keep our kids this close forever. This makes us want to soak up every moment of time we have left with them under our roof — until we actually express this emotion to them and they roll their eyes and tell us we are weird.
So I hope you will join me as I write my way through the middle. As always, I welcome any comments, feedback, suggestions or advice, especially from those of you who have been through the middle to the other side. There is nothing that makes you appreciate good advice more than parenting a teenager who soundly rejects all of your good advice. Case in point: my father-in-law has been telling me for 14 years, “Our children aren’t ours to keep. We only get to borrow them for a little while.” Which I used to think was weird. But my perspective has changed and now I think he was right. Imagine that.
Jill is a stay-at-home mom of two (an odd title because she is rarely ever at home). In her pre-Mommy days, she graduated from the University of Missouri with an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master’s in social work, with an emphasis on children and family studies. But she wishes she would have gotten a Ph.D. in What’s For Dinner and How to Get Bubblegum Out of the Carpet. That would have served her better.
Read her blog at jillsorr.com • Follow Jill on twitter @ jillsorr