10-year challenge churns up an emotional storm

SUZANNE EPSTEIN-LANG , SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

In case you have been living under a rock, there was a popular challenge on social media recently in which participants posted a photo of themselves 10 years ago, along with a current one. Though I see its pitfalls, I must admit I love social media for wholesome fun just like this. But this one sent me into a spiral, and it is not because of the inevitable pounds gained, gray hair found and wrinkles that have appeared in the past decade.

Believe me, there are plenty of these things. But it’s the change in my family that has me “in the feels,” as the saying goes.

Looking for a selfie from 2012 (did I know the word selfie in 2012?), I stumbled across a bunch of photos I had taken of craft projects, decor in our home and my children. The latter two were for my long-abandoned blog (blogs were so 2012), and they could have passed for insignificant except that they reminded me of the way we were living at that time. It all seems so alien to me now and tugs at my heart in the most devastating way.

My kids were 4 and 6. We had just graduated from the baby phase of life, but they were not yet in the serious upper grades of elementary school. We were busy planting succulents for Tu B’Shevat, making pom pom wreaths for Valentine’s Day, baking challah for Shabbat every week and doing some other activity every day in between.

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We were planning a magical fairy playdate, eagerly awaiting the groundhog’s arrival, shuttling back and forth to dance lessons and endlessly reorganizing our toy room. I was practicing law part time, but my youngest daughter thought my actual job was being the room mother. I was miffed by this because I was working to show our daughters an example of a “professional woman.”

We lived so communally then. My friends’ children were my children’s friends. Our social sphere revolved around activities that we planned each weekend to entertain the kids: trips to the pumpkin patch, orchard, Science Center, Magic House and COCA Family Theater series.

We hosted and attended more dinner parties than I can recall where the kids retreated to the basement. The kids no longer needing constant supervision but still emptied every last drawer and closet. The adults sat upstairs blissfully unaware of all the changes ahead of us in the next decade. That is until we had to go down and watch the inevitable “show” that signaled the end of the evening.

As cute as my children were and as talented as they actually turned out to be, I hated the show. Sitting in the basement watching their entertainment, I could not help but want to pick up all the toys and chaos around. My mind was already racing to the dishes upstairs and the chores of bedtime. We had to bathe, brush teeth, read books, sing a song or two, and say the shema all before my husband and I could watch a few minutes of adult television together. My first-grader would grasp me so tightly, begging me to stay longer. I can still feel her tiny arms gripping me. I must admit that they were moments when I tried to get away.

What I didn’t know is that our life was pretty simple. No friends had died. We had not experienced the painful moment of early childhood friendships changing and did not know what it would be like when our friend’s children and our children no longer wanted to play in the basement together. No one had gotten so specialized in their activities that they had moved on to the select team. We were blissfully unaware of teenage angst, big kid problems or college applications. None of us could have imagined that we would live in a pandemic (I’m still grappling with that one).

Here I am 10 years later, marveling at how much life has changed with two high schoolers. My babies have turned into beautiful young women while my husband and I are simply a decade older. The thing that gets me are not these physical changes but that in a blink of an eye, my children are no longer little children. They are firmly in high school, buzzing about with their own lives. A family dinner is no longer something I can assume will happen, let alone something I can orchestrate with another family. My girls are ready to launch soon, but I’m  not ready to let them go.

The 10-year challenge was more challenging than I thought. The worst part is imagining that the kids don’t remember any of this the same way my husband and I do. I’m no longer upset that my daughter thought my job was to be the room mother. If anything, I hope what she remembers is that my most important job was to be her mom. If I could go back in time, I would savor all the basement talent shows and never wish for one second less in the tight grip of those tiny arms.

I’m bracing myself for what the next 10 years will bring.

Suzanne Epstein-Lang is a lawyer, social worker, wife and mom endlessly striving to eat healthier, get organized and celebrate life’s moments. She and her family belong to Central Reform Congregation.