It’s spring break here in Wilmington and we’re entering week three (year-round schedule). Though I always dread the first few days of our routine change - the boys bickering over games, taking turns, and having constant "fairness" disputes - by the end we’re in sync, and I hate to send them back to class.
This time, the transition looks different. As our kids hit the books, my husband and I will slip away to celebrate our first ten years together. A gaggle of incoming family will be in charge at the Gemelli house so that a couple of tired parents can find rest under a palm tree or two.
Like many of you, the majority of my time is spent as mom, wife, and whatever else is asked of me. Over the years, it’s been easy to lose sight of the simple woman I’ve always been - a daydreaming daughter of God, enthralled with the dialed-down, simple life that used to come naturally.
Returning to her is a purposeful practice that I’ve adopted over the years. As I pack my suitcase and envision my impending escape from responsibility, I remember the words of April Lakata Cao. Her wind-through-the-hair reminder is one that I come back to time and time again. It's about the little things imprinted in our memories, the smells, the freedom, the mistakes, and living to the full.
Here’s hoping that you’ll be inspired to spend time with the you who gets lost in the shuffle too.
Light up the room,
When I was nineteen I had a jacked-up Jeep with big tires. I bought it that way, trading in my sensible, tan, automatic Corolla for a stick-shift Wrangler. To this day I don’t know what possessed me, but I drove that green monster off the lot, lurching and stalling along the way. (Did I mention I had no idea how to drive a stick?)
I never made it home. I ran out of gas on a hill and panicked when I couldn’t figure out how to stop from rolling backwards.
How often do we climb a mountain only to forget where we came from?
Eventually I learned to love that Jeep and my favorite memories from that 19th year were late nights with the top off, music blaring and a cigarette in my hand. I loved speeding down the highway, hair pulled back and the wind so loud the radio had to be turned all the way up until the seats vibrated.
On particularly late nights when the roads were empty, I would rest my knee against the wheel, raise my hands above my head and close my eyes, face turned up to the sky. Country music and cigarette smoke mingled with the smell of fall and on that road, I was free. For me, it was like being in church.
I miss her sometimes.
Now, being a mom isn’t just a job and it’s not just a calling. It’s the way we’ve chosen to live out love. But we must be careful to remember that one day, after the busyness of active, twenty-four-hour parenting is over, we'll return to ourselves. And if we don’t take the time now to invest in who we are, we’ll spend precious years figuring out who we’ve become in a too-quiet empty nest.
What happens is that we fall deeply in love with our people, especially the little ones who need us most. And their need, their fragile vulnerability, fills us with tangible purpose. Real, reach out and grab us purpose in the form of tiny arms and legs.
The loving becomes consuming and eventually, parts of us fade away.
Who we were doesn’t seem to matter once we're renamed. Baptized by late-night feedings and emergency rooms visits, Mommy becomes more than a title. It describes our entire life in two syllables. (Amazingly, only one other Name can do that!)
And years later, when diapers are long forgotten and we’re more accustomed to the sound of a slamming front door than tiny voices calling after us, we realize that we were more than the word...but the word stuck.
We forgot about that girl who used to strum a guitar and sing out loud. Or the one who could dance all night. We forgot that we were the girl who loved kissing in the afternoon for no reason except to want to kiss. We left her behind because it didn’t seem right for that same girl to tuck children in tight and read bedtime stories.
We tend to think of her mistakes instead of the way she used to light up a room.
I don’t know about you, but that girl still lives inside me.
She’s quieter now, but she’s not gone. I forget about her most days because Mommy means taking care of everyone first. Mommy means driving in the safe lane, buckled and belted. Mommy often becomes invisible even when she’s the center of their universe.
Losing ourselves in motherhood doesn’t have to mean losing ourselves. We don’t betray the people we love by remaining the person they fell in love with. Yes, the landscape changes but it doesn’t mean we prune the heart and soul of who we are.
There's room for the best part of that girl. The one who was quick to laugh and slow to worry. She’s the one who comes out in spontaneous dance parties or climbs into a makeshift fort with flashlights and treats.
She will be a part of who they’ll remember when they consider how they were loved.
If you’re driving down the road and see a woman in a black suburban with the sunroof open in the dead of winter, music pounding and her body moving with the beat, she might be a mom who’s remembering that girl.
She might be thinking about that Jeep and the feeling of being free. And she’ll return home with a smile on her face, arms heavy with groceries and heart light with remembering.
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God...
April Lakata Cao is the homeschool mom of four beautiful kids and military wife of sixteen years - wannabe morning person by day and freelance writer by night.
M.S. in Marriage and Family Therapy. Earns Crossfit participation trophies. Disaster cook. Enthusiastic wife. #Boymom. Clutches her faith, not her pearls.