I was up before the sun again. It is creeping up slower now, as the month is drawing to another sad end. Summer is nearly over, and I can’t help but look back on it in a somewhat wistful way.

The house is quiet, so quiet. Not even the dog stirs yet and the only sound other than my own footsteps across the wooden floor is the coffee that drips out its full-to-the-brim pot.

I’m nearing 40, and the kids sit in their consecutive pattern at 8, 12, 14 and 15. A decade ago, had you asked me to predict my summers with kids this grown, I would have answered differently. I would have thought we would all be only halfway through our night at this early hour. Our dreams just beginning to roll into the next, our bodies turning to find a new position as we closed our eyes against dawn. No responsibilities on our minds, no lunches to pack, no schedules to keep. This is what I would have thought, had you asked me a decade ago.

And yet, here I am. Alone in the quiet, adding a few extra treats to the lunches that already sit bulging in the fridge. There are three big lunchboxes in there this summer. One for hard-working husband, whose summer seems to dribble along in sweat and callouses and blistered feet, just the same as the rest of the year. And then two more. One for each of the two eldest, whose alarms are just now sounding, sun still sleepy.

And so it is. This summer I have found myself the mother of men.

They stand over me now, all three. I feel small, and so my contribution to their lives feels smaller, too. As pieces of them grow, their bodies, their lives, a part of me shrinks. No longer looking to me for help in tying a shoe, bandaging a scraped knee, or taming a wild lock, they seek me out now only for rides that take them away from me, and food that makes them grow only more.

Sometimes I am frustrated, my purpose feeling a little lost in this phase, the tasks mundane. Why am I the one picking up these socks abandoned on the steps yet again? Why am I the one hanging up the towels left in a heap beside the very hooks they are made to hang on? Why am I the one closing the chip bag, left wide and gaping in the never-quite-full-enough pantry? Why am I the one replacing the milk again, the very one in the family who doesn’t drink milk? 

Why, oh why, am I up again at this hour so early, when my summers of children this age were supposed to be for sleeping in, for no responsibilities, for no schedules, and no lunches to pack.

And then, one slowly lumbers down the stairs in the quiet of this day. Hair askew, work clothes still offering some evidence of the hours put in the day before. The coffee pot is full now, and they silently pour me a mug black first, before pouring themselves one, half full of flavored cream. Cinnamon Toast Crunch comes out, drips of milk left on the counter as they quietly crunch their breakfast of choice. Less sleep than me, their evenings before full of teenaged things, heads only hitting the pillow six short hours before their alarms screamed them to wake, they are tired.

They are tired, and I am proud. This summer, they have made me proud. These men of mine, learning to work, learning to put their own lives aside, learning new skills, and learning that sometimes grunt comes before gain.

And therein lies the reminder. I will choose, over and over and over again, to offer them these tiny sacrifices of mine . . . the abandoned socks, the crumpled towels, the open chip bag, and the always empty milk . . . and yes, even the way-too-early summer mornings.

This is how they need me now. And I’ll take it, and I’ll do it all as masterfully as I possibly can. As willingly as I once tied the shoes, and bandaged the boo-boos, I will do these new things, too. 

Because like it or not, I am now the mother of men.

Men who will still bend down to hug me, no questions asked.

Men who sit around a picnic table, shirtless in the sun, and let their little sister “do their hair”.

Men who grin widely, ear to ear, at their grandmothers when they stop in “just to say hi”.

Men who are quick to open a jar of pickles for me before I even have a chance to admit defeat.

Men who scamper up a ladder, saying confidently, “No, Mom, don’t go up there, I’ll do it”.

Men who one day very soon will be offering me rides, instead of the other way around.

Men who are eager to use their own earnings to treat me to a coffee, or their sister to a cone. 

And so, these are the trade-offs. They are sometimes hard, often unexpected, and guys, sorry to say still so, so, exhausting.

But worth it, too.

Worth the effort, worth the mundane tasks, worth the very early summer mornings, to have the unique opportunity—dare I even say, the very GIFT—of mothering men.

Originally published on the author’s blog

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Rachel Gossen

I am a mom of 4. 3 teenaged sons (send help and also food) and one 8 yr. old blessing of a daughter. My husband and I have lost ourselves in the raising of them in the past 16 years...but we're perfectly fine with that. It won't last forever....we're learning this more quickly than we could have ever guessed. I'm not really a writer, just a mom who loves her kids, and loves words on the side. Find me on Facebook!