Until, all of a sudden, you wake up one morning and you realize that you have reached The Sweet Spot: that magical time during which your children are the perfect balance of big enough and little enough.
In this center of the Parenting Venn Diagram, your kids are big enough to be somewhat self-sufficient. Yes, you may still be preparing their meals but, when they sit down to eat, you can, too, without anyone on your lap or attached to your boob. Your kids are capable. You can tell them to put on their shoes and coats and They Can. Some of the most-challenging child development milestones are behind you (colic, sleep-training, cutting teeth, teething while nursing (!), potty training--we're almost there with our last one!). Best of all...wait for it...your kids can Entertain Themselves for short-to-medium lengths of time.
But, they're still little. They still cuddle in close to read books together at bedtime. Their eyes still light up at the mere mention of jellybeans. They're still goofy and unaffected and un-self-conscious. They think you are the Knower of All Things and you kind of are...with occasional help from Google. When they get out of the bath, you smell their freshly-shampooed heads and they're still baby sweet.
This Winter Break, it hit me. We're in The Sweet Spot.
I first caught of glimpse that we may be here on our first day off from school. We went to our brand-new indoor trampoline park and It. Was. Awesome. The boys were, of course, in paradise. But, surprisingly, Molly was, too. She bounced everywhere, racing ahead of me and her brothers calling back, "This way, boys! Let's jump on the big, BIG trampolines!" She jumped down the trampoline runway and (gently, slowly) lowered herself into the foam pit. We paid for an hour, we could have stayed for two...and Molly would have kept up with us.
When we traveled to my parents' house, it started to become more clear...Sure, the kids were still up ridiculously early every morning of our trip but, finally, they can hang despite having had little sleep. Seldom are the all-out, day-ending, exhaustion-induced meltdowns. They're big enough to be able to wake up early, have a busy day of sightseeing and holiday festivities with family, catch a quick cat nap in the car if necessary, and stay up until (a later than normal) bedtime.
But they're still little enough to want to pose for dorky pictures with their parents.
We returned home to a house cluttered with Christmas decorations and new toys. While I spent the next day and a half de-Christmasing the house, the kids played. By themselves...together...but independently from me. There were tears demanding my involvement once or twice, following a too-roughly-tossed couch cushion and over a dispute involving what may or may not be a Creeper action figure from Minecraft (I have a lot to learn, apparently, after Minecraft took over our house this Christmas). But for the most part, they settled their own quarrels and entertained themselves happily and productively. Big enough to play independently, little enough to still Play.
We enjoyed a low-key New Year's Eve. We watched a Jake and the Neverland Pirates special and toasted the New Year (well, the end of the show, actually).
The Sweet Spot? Big enough to toast, little enough to go to bed at their regular bedtime on New Year's Eve. The bedtime, by the way, is another indication that we are in the Parenting Sweet Spot: our three kids, 7.5 years old, 5, and nearly 3, all go to bed at the same time....kind of. While I'm reading to Molly and Max, Sam is playing Legos with Evan. Then Molly goes to bed, Sam reads an extra book to Max, and I go to read with Evan. Their bedtimes are technically staggered, but the bedtime routine all happens at once. We're not yet at the point where we are negotiating who gets to stay up until what time and "that's not fair!" and "but I'm older!" etc. Right now, it's simple.
We started the New Year with something completely new.
The Sweet Spot is when all three kids can go ice skating with just two adults and a stack of buckets.
Big enough to join in, little enough to think they're destined to be the next Olympic figure skaters after their first trip to the rink.
We wrapped up our Winter Break with a trip to the movie theatre...just me, the kids, and Big Hero 6. It was right in the middle of the day, but the fact that it was going to eliminate any hope for naptime didn't deter me. Naps are No Longer Necessary. I wasn't sure I'd ever say those words, yet here we are. At long last and, at the same time, all of a sudden.
Big Hero 6 was a great movie. All the kids loved it...we're in that Sweet Spot, after all. There's no movie-selection negotiating or splitting up at the theatre. We all still love the animated feature (which, to be fair, is easy when Disney keeps hitting it out of the park...).
At the end of the movie, as we approached the escalator, littlest Molly said, "I do it myself! I go on the escamator all by myself!" I held her hand and grabbed hold of Max's and got ready to take our big All By Ourselves step. But I couldn't. My biggest boy stood at the top of the escalator, motionless. "Go ahead, bud!" I said. "We're ready!" He looked at the moving steps, hesitated, then looked back at me.
"Hold my hand?" he asked.
My perfectly big and little boy.
In 2015, I'm going to enjoy this time of our lives. I'm going to enjoy my Big Enough and Little Enough kids, knowing that I paid the dues to get to this point, but that it won't last forever.
In 2015, I'm going to be Present in the Sweet Spot.