I have four children. This summer, all of them will be heading off to sleep away camp. I am staring down the barrel of a temporarily empty nest. It will be the first time in over 15 years my home will be child-free for more than a few hours and the very thought has made my moods swing wildly between the pole stars of elation and fear as the day draws near.
Lest you imagine otherwise, neither the elation nor the fear are directed towards my children —although I am thrilled they have the privilege of going to camp and hopeful they are safe and happy through the summer. Rather, my mixed anticipation stems from wondering what my own summer will feel like. For the first time in 15 and a half years, I will not have an active, day-to-day role as a mother. The thrill of imagining all of the things I can do again for the first time in over a decade are buffeted by the unease of not entirely knowing who I am without the context of my children.
If you ask me now to visualize my summer I would likely describe something like this: I will spend seven weeks drinking Rosé, watching Call the Midwife and eating in all the outdoor restaurants I pass during the year while walking my children to their soccer practices. My vision might also include the possibility of walking around my apartment naked. There is a scenario in which I might accomplish absolutely nothing this summer, which both excites me and makes me nauseous.
However, if I allow myself to delve deeper when imagining the next 7 weeks, two questions arise:
Who will I be when I’m not defined in relationship to my children?
What will my day be like when it’s not organized around my children’s schedules?
The first question has a more existential ring to it, and should cause me more agita, right? But bizarrely, it’s actually the second question that creates more anxiety in my heart. I have created a home life which provides order, structure and predictability for my children. But when I pull my children out of the equation, for whom is the order? Me! I am someone who thrives on routine, ritual and strict schedules. I created that for my children because that is what I, in fact, crave. Having grown up as a girl and young woman who was eager to meet other people’s expectations, external structure was catnip. Having my schedule dictated by school, camp, college and later work, I did not have to make any decisions or choices – I just followed the signposts along the path to get where other people expected me to go.
I have already moved on from my own school days and my corporate job, and now, at least temporarily, I’ll be without my children’s needs and schedules. As of the third week of June, the final fence posts of that external structure will end. At least for a little while, my path will be without boundaries. It will just be me and free time. Ugh. You know how moms always talk about wanting free time? About wanting to sleep late? About wanting peace and quiet? We may say we want it, but it also scares the hell out of us.
When you own your own company, you mostly make your own schedule. Certain aspects of my work at Dynamo Girl are dictated by outside forces: the after-school schedules of our partner schools, my coaches’ availability, the calendar year. However, the new pathways that I innovate for Dynamo Girl happen on my own time and must come from within me, forcing me to get good at creating my own signposts. In that context, I can choose to try new things and I can choose to give up on them. I can choose to develop a puberty workshop or not. I can choose to add girl-positive media to the work we are doing, or not. I can choose to grow what I have built, or not. The choice is mine. I don’t get a grade. I don’t answer to a board of directors. I don’t get an annual review.
Honestly, the only people who hold me accountable with my work are my children. My children who ask me every few weeks for an update on the company. My children who want to know what new projects I’m working on. My children who keep a count of how many schools now have Dynamo Girl classes. So funnily enough, even though my children will be gone this summer and I will have several weeks with very few obligations and commitments, there will be one thing that will keep me on track. One looming inquiry will keep me working, innovating, trying and failing. It will be the wonderful and terrifying question my children will ask me when they get off the camp bus:
So Mom, what did you do this summer? And I better have a good answer.