As I walked into the laundry room, my heart stopped beating. There, in the middle of my new tile floor stood my one-year-old daughter Lauren tap dancing in a puddle of permanent blue paint, smiling brightly. Instantly, my eyes began to sting with the tears that would soon come. We’d saved five years for that simple remodel, and now it was ruined. Oh, the joys of being a parent.

Over the past forty-two years, the one thing I’ve gotten good at is crying, and it all began when I found out I was pregnant with my first child Michelle. Having been told I may never have babies after a miscarriage early in my marriage, you can imagine my ecstasy. Then, nine months later, blood-curdling wails would rattle the hospital walls as I delivered her the old fashion way, sans drugs. No epidural or oral medication to ease the pain, just a stick between my teeth and Lamaze breathing. But when she was placed in my arms, and I held her close, those cries from the pain turned into tears of joy. The scene would remain the same as Jenni, Lauren, and Tim entered this world.

Back in the day, how I’d blissfully teared up at their accomplishments in school, sports, dance, and friendships. But I’d also internally mourn their broken hearts, any self-perceived failures or disappointments they may experience. Never wanting to show my sorrow over their pain, for I had to remain strong and wise, I’d weep alone in the privacy of my bathroom. Their hardships became mine, only ten fold.

While I’d like to think moms control the cases of Kleenex that comes with child-rearing, I know dads have their moments too. Just like a pendulum that swings from a delicate silver chain, a parent’s emotions sway. In one minute, it’s sublime happiness with only a look, a smile, or an “I love you.” But two seconds later it can easily soar in the opposite direction with words that feel unkind or insensitive. How I blubbered the first time I was told, “Go away, you’re so annoying.” I spent their entire lives filling many a hankie for one reason or another. So many, I finally had to buy the cloth type because I was afraid I was destroying the environment with all the tissues tossed, especially when they went onto lives of their own, leaving me with no one to care for anymore.

Before children, I was able to keep my emotions in check. Sure, my eyes may have glisten over a sweet AT&T commercial stating, “call your mother,” or a sentimental song. And did I blubber over a breakup I wasn’t prepared for, you bet. But when these four souls chose me to be their mommy, every move they made, every milestone that came, every ounce of sweetness to each other, and to myself, caused the waterworks to flow. But as the years went by, and they became self-sufficient, I found the tears begin to lessen a bit. After all, my job was complete and life was about me. That is, until my grandchildren entered this world.

My kids decided to have their babies later in life. While all my friends became grandmothers in their late 40s and 50s, I was sixty-five when my first grandson was born. Watching Bo come into this world, I immediately broke down with witnessing the miracle of his birth. Four babies later (with another one on the way), it seems I’m right back at the beginning — laughing at their antics until my cheeks are soaking wet, sniveling when they have better things to do than play with me, and bawling with grief as I watch them, like their parents, grow up fast. 

Yes, it’s true, the years have wreaked havoc with my emotions leaving my mascara more on my cheeks than lashes (and those were the good times). But through it all I’ve learned to smile, whether in happy moments or sad, because of the gift that comes with intensely loving these human beings.

In fairytale long ago, I was granted the privilege by the Universe to shelter my children as they discovered their true selves and purpose in life. For some of the years, I was the teacher. But, in the end, it has been them teaching me my lessons: how to live in the moment, who I am with them, and who I am away from them as they all soar, babies and adults alike, into their great unknown. As a result of their generous art of love, and all that goes with it (including soggy tissues), this aging woman has learned about life’s joy through her tears.

To all the women who have cried over your children always remember —  your love for them has been their greatest blessing.