It’s the hardest job in the world. Yup, until today, I had it. Until 9:15 this morning, for almost 10 years, each day was rewarding and fun with my two little ones. And now, for the first time in all those years, I’m alone all day, until 4:15 p.m. when school ends.

As my youngest ventures off to kindergarten, my role has suddenly changed and my identity is unclear. No one tells you that Stay at Home Mom has an expiration date. That although you’ll always be the Mom, the days of snacks in your purse and spare clothes in your trunk terminate and you’re expected to change. In that same blink of an eye in which they grew from newborn to grade schooler, the Stay at Home Mom goes from hero to…what?

Until they truly had to, my kids stayed home with me. I was Mom and I was good at it. I sincerely enjoyed playing with them, making crafts, reading books, and venturing to the library. We’d bake, we’d sing, we’d dance. Days were spent visiting the aquarium, collecting lizards, and hearing their thoughts on anything from dragons to volcanoes. It was my calling – what I was born to do.

Luckily my husband agreed that I would quit teaching when our oldest, now eight-and-a-half and in third grade, was born. And until now, when our five-year-old daughter headed to kindergarten, I always had someone with me. Someone to chat with, someone to need me, someone whose existence registered in every moment and breath I took. Now that they are both off to school for the first time, I truly don’t know who I am.

“So what are you gonna do?”

Oh, this question. How many people ask me this question? And it’s not a “I’m concerned about you” panicked inquiry. Not the tone I’d get with a leaking roof during a birthday party. No, it’s the tone used by nosy aunts on Christmas when the college kids come home for break. The tone of expectation and judgement.

“What are you going to do?” is asked of me time and time again, from family, friends, and even the salespeople at the Gap when I took my little one to buy a first-day-of-kindergarten dress. I get it. I know what they’re asking me, but I still try to shrug it off.

“Cry,” I always say, hoping they’ll take pity on me and move on. But many (including the gal at the Gap) don’t fall for my antics. The follow up is blunt.

“No, I mean, for work. Are you at least going to get a part-time job?”

There it is. The judgement. The expectation that now that my kids are both in school full time, my Stay at Home Mom title is no longer valid. Society expects me to move on and contribute.

But the thing is, 10 years ago when I became a mom, I didn’t plan on this day. I didn’t think ahead to when I wouldn’t be needed at all times. When my hubs and I agreed I’d stay home with the kids, take care of them and the house, it didn’t dawn on me that someday my kids will be old enough to not be home. Then what would I do?

I had no plan. Until last week, I was in complete denial. Society, however, was not. It’s assumed I will rejoin the work force. Being home is no longer “the hardest job in the world” – it’s lazy and superfluous.

Perhaps it’s my own projection planting these ideas in my head. The outside world doesn’t know my situation. They are unaware that I do contribute by freelance writing (though that registers mighty low on the totem pole of reliable contributions to society) and do the accounting for my husband’s office. But the once-foreign concept of wandering into Target alone, often cited among Mom bloggers, has lost its allure without my own self-knowledge that I’ve earned that time alone. I can clean the house, but what’s the reward without anyone to mess it up? I can bake, but without spilled flour on the floor and a scientific discussion about transitions of states, what’s the fun? Wearing a messy bun and three-day-old sweats doesn’t seem justified, nor does skipping the gym or eating a hot dog for lunch. The expectations have changed overnight and the life I’ve created and enjoyed for nearly 10 years vanished before my eyes, along with my darlings.

I realize, of course, that I’m lucky they will be home tonight. They aren’t kidnapped or dead. I’m not being deported or assigned overseas. Few are as fortunate as I to be able to stay home with their kids for as long as I did. At the same time, it hurts my soul and leaves me feeling lost.

There is great insight in a book by Alan Watts called “The Wisdom of Insecurity” that says to truly appreciate a river, you cannot contain it as it no longer flows and is then just a bucket of water. You need to let it run. Like the river, you cannot capture life to appreciate it. You need to let it run.

I believe this. So much so that I had the phrase “Let it Run” imprinted on a bracelet to remind myself that I cannot expect my babies to freeze in time, nor would I want them to. I want them to grow, have adventures, learn, and expand. I do need to Let it Run. And at 4:15 p.m. tonight, I will hear about the adventures of their days and spend the night eating casserole and playing games.

Tonight, I will be Mom again.