I can go to the bathroom whenever I want to these days.

I can also take a shower, hop into my car for a quick run to Target, and too many other things to list. Actually, not just too many things, but all the things. With nothing tying me down anymore, I can easily do all the things that used to seem out of my reach.

It was only a few years ago when none of that was true. Going to the bathroom required a plan. I had to make sure the babies were safe and secure when they were tiny, and later, when I merely had to tell them where Mommy would be, I would keep an eye on the door, knowing little fingers would appear under it, followed by sweet voices asking me questions, loudly, at lightning speed.

Funny how all that went away so gradually that I didn’t even notice until it was gone.

At first, sippy cups and potty training both gave a welcome relaxing of the tether that bound me to my children. Those first years are wonderful but also so exhausting. Then came school, friends, college, and finally those empty nest years I never once thought about when I was rocking an infant in the middle of the night or cleaning up after yet another unpleasant diaper. No, in those early days, there was no time to think past the day I was living. The days that seemed to roll through the pages of the calendar, no real break between each one.

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I wasn’t aware of how quickly my babies were growing until they were grown.

Looking back now, I remember being warned about how children grow and go, but I was too deep in the trenches to hear the warnings.

I remember being in the grocery store several times during those years, trying to corral my two young children while handling a cart filled to the brim, when an older woman would glance at us and stare just a beat too long. I’m sure I thought she had no clue how hard my life was. I now know she was wishing for just one more day like I was having.

She hadn’t forgotten how hard it was, but as she pushed her almost empty cart at a leisurely pace, she was all too aware of how light it felt, and how suddenly that feeling had arrived.

Back then I needed breaks, time to myself. And there’s no shame in that.

Time is something I have a ton of now.

I can go to the bathroom whenever I want to these days. I never see little fingers peeking their way in to be just a little closer to me or hear fists banging on the door. No, silence is my companion most of the time now. There isn’t anyone waiting outside that door impatiently for me, sad because a few minutes without me in their presence feels like forever to them. Now, when I open that door, I find myself alone.

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When my grown children reach out to me these days, I gladly stop my world for them. I treasure every text, every phone call, every visit. I fight the urge to ask for more, but sometimes I find myself saying, “Oh, you have to go?” at the end of a visit because I now realize how precious our time together is. And I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I want more.

It’s now my fingers reaching under that door, me who wants to be just a little closer to them.

I know children are supposed to grow up. I know I’m simply not going to be needed in the same way I once was. I know our relationship was designed to change, and I love this new friendship we have. I really do. My brain understands how it is now. It’s my heart I’m having trouble convincing. No matter how many years pass, I still long to be their mommy. But I know that’s not who I am anymore. I’m Mom now, as I should be.

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But knowing all that doesn’t stop my mother’s heart from glancing toward the door now and then, imagining those tiny precious fingers that used to reach with all their might just to be near their favorite person. I’m grateful I had the chance to take so many mental snapshots. It sure helps, on my lonely days, to pull them out, dust them off, and smile as I think about the way they were. The way we all were. Then I put the past back where it belongs, embrace what I have now, and feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for both.

Sandy Brannan

Sandy Brannan, author of Becoming Invisible, So Much Stays Hidden, Masquerade, and Frozen in Time, is a high school English teacher. Creating memories with her grandchildren is her idea of a perfect day. You can follow Sandy and read more of her writing at https://sandybrannan.comhttp://facebook.com/sandybrannanauthor  http://instagram.com/sandybrannanauthor  and  amazon.com/author/sandybrannan .