My husband and I are raising our family in the same city where we attended college. There are occasions when I drive past one of my old college haunts in an SUV listening to a Curious George DVD while my two young sons giggle or cry in the backseat. Every so often, I catch a glimpse of the ghost of my younger self running up the sidewalk to that bar with the palm trees out front, or laughing hysterically while waiting in line for an all-ages show at Club Soda which closed down years ago leaving many ghosts of our younger selves dancing on that old hardwood floor. 

A few years ago, I met a friend at a rummage sale near our old college campus. 

My friend commented about how sentimental she got driving past campus. I told her I had the same thoughts. Neither one of us wants to erase what we have, but we both concluded that it would be nice to have a do-over for college. To make more of the time we were given -- study abroad, be more deliberate about the classes that we took (like life-enriching courses as opposed to only those that weren't scheduled at 8am or on Fridays).

I am the first to admit that I didn't exactly make the most out of college. By my junior year, dreams of heading to NYC for a career in theatre had all but vanished as I decided to set my sights on more practical endeavors. It took me over three years after I graduated to set foot onstage again and for five straight years I performed in dozens of productions trying hard to make up for lost time. Theatre brought me so many gifts -- confidence, friendships, a husband.  So it was with mixed feelings that I recently turned down an opportunity to audition for a play. There are many reasons why:

- I'm not feeling mentally prepared for the time commitment
- My boys needs me
- Baby weight issues
- I doubt I could memorize anything right now
- I go to bed by 9:30
- I just don't want to

That last one scares me the most. Because when I strip away all of those other excuses which are all things for which I could find support, I just don't want to be involved in theatre right now and sometimes I worry that I might be losing this piece of myself. 

In those moments when I am driving past the places where my younger self used to play, I imagine that I'm standing in a vast field. I am calm. The sky stretches out for miles and the only sound is the nearly imperceptible whistle of the wind through the grass. Nap if you want to, run if you want to, pick flowers and gaze at clouds if you want to. Just be you for a little while. That is life before a child.

I close my eyes today, and I imagine I’m in that same field. It's quiet. Too quiet. My eyes dart all around and I'm running, faster, faster, calling out "Hello? Where are you? I can't see you!"  

I am tethered.  

I was tethered physically for the months it took to grow and feed my babies, but I've been emotionally tethered ever since they were born. A tether is a cord, fixture or signal that connects something movable to an anchor or reference point. My boys are my movable object right now and I am their anchor and sometimes I feel very stuck. My youngest son is mostly weaned, which helps us both gain some independence. He nurses like most adults drink booze -- only nights and weekends (and some mornings, but only if it's been a rough night).

Yes, sometimes I feel very stuck, like a stake in the yard with two little puppies yapping and chasing squirrels all around me. 

But sometimes...more often than not...I have learned to see things this way:

In space, there is a technique called momentum exchange tethering where a rotating tether attached to an anchor will grab a spacecraft and then release it at a later time. Doing this can transfer energy from the tether to and from the spacecraft with very little loss of energy between them. What if somewhere, high above Earth, floating among the stars, there was a space anchor called Mama, whose tether is connected to two young and vibrant spacecrafts? I imagine us this way, held together by a tether while I give them my energy day in and day out, waiting for the inevitable moment when they learn to fly on their own. 

It's lonely being a space anchor. It doesn't leave you much time for hobbies, friends, books, long showers, nail polish, exercise, movies, naps, or even time spent just breathing deeply. And yes, as glorious as the physics of it are, there is some energy loss. But over time that spacecraft gains energy, altitude, momentum, and independence as it prepares to take off on a long journey. It's all possible because of that anchor who gives up its freedom for a little while.  

I look at my boys. Our tether is quite short right now. Our galaxy consists of the thousand or so square feet of our little house on the corner of our street. In years to come, the tether will grow longer until they gain the momentum they need to fly. And just when I think I’ve lost who I am, I look at them and I see my smile, my dark brown eyes, my curiosity, my stubbornness. And when they make me laugh, I realize that my boys are transferring some energy to me as well.

It's hard being tethered sometimes. But if I remember to open my eyes to see what we have, to gaze at our little world, I see the tether stretching and, meanwhile, all around us, we have the most glorious view of the stars.

Guest post written by Nancy Stefanick. Nancy lives in Kalamazoo, MI with her husband Trevor and their sons Jack and Will. "Tethered" is dedicated to her sweet little boys and to Trevor, a high school Physics and Astronomy teacher, who stands steadfastly in the trenches of parenthood with her every single day.

Photo by Sarah Thornhill