Taking shelter from the rain at the Cincinnati Nature Center
We put so much emphasis on childhood “firsts” and milestones. We fill a book during baby’s first year with every “first” we can think of: first outing, first time sleeping though the night (Hurrah! Enjoy it! You still won’t get a decent’s night sleep for at least 2 years!), first foods, first steps, first trip to the ER (No? That’s just us?).
As our children age from babies into toddlers, preschoolers and beyond, we still hang on to these milestones and document them meticulously.
For some parents, these milestones are celebrations. Whether big or small, each one seems to get us closer to the life we knew before babies. You know, the one where you slept at least 6 hours in a row, peed by yourself, had the clarity to sit down and read a few pages without forgetting what you just read, only cut your own meat. For other parents, the passing of these phases seems to elicit strong emotions. They’re sad to see the kids get bigger, more independent. Perhaps baby fever even sets in, with hopes that another baby will give them a few more years of fuzzy, sweet heads to sniff and total dependence.
Me? I’m partial to the celebration camp.
This past week was Spring Break. We opted to stay at home (staycation, if you’re looking to glam it up). After all, we have janky knees and broken kidneys to pay for, as well as the possibility of a family trip to the happiest place on earth later this year. We spent most of the time around home, but on Wednesday we drove to Cincinnati for the day. The plan was to visit the Nature Playscape at the Cincinnati Art Center, but mostly it was an excuse for me to go to IKEA.
On the two-hour drive home, I spent time thinking about how we’ve passed yet another milestone. We are no longer at the age and stage where a day or two away requires military-style planning and packing. On the morning of our trip I threw a few snacks, a change of clothes and a small tote bag with books in the car. We rolled out the door with less fuss than it takes to leave for school on any given morning. The drive was mellow.
The kids are mostly easy and flexible these days. We got caught in a torrential downpour at the Playscape that left us drenched, muddy and cold. Not long ago, this would’ve been a recipe for disaster. I would’ve had to carry a crying, filthy toddler back to the car while managing my camera and a diaper bag, all the while coaxing a stubborn kid to stop complaining and hurry it up. At least another 20 exhausting minutes would’ve been spent peeling wet clothes off bodies and helping little arms into sleeves. They’d be exhausted from the long day, quick to melt down at empty bellies and cold feet.
Instead we laughed it off and made do. With minimal help, they got themselves into clean clothes. I requested one last stop at the mother-of-all-grocery-stores, Jungle Jim’s, and they shrugged their shoulders. Whatever, Mom. We got home late – nearly 10 p.m. – and they put themselves to bed and slept in the next morning.
We are in the Golden Age of parenting and I fully realize and cherish this. We are out of the exhausting trenches of baby- and toddler-hood but still blissfully removed from the angst-y teen years ahead of us. Yes, I celebrate these milestones. I’m not completely immune to the emotions that come with closing the door on having babies. There are times when I’m sad that I don’t remember what it felt like to hold Elena as a baby. There are days when I wish I could spend an afternoon with an infant snuggled on my chest.
But … there will always be somebody else’s baby to hold for a bit. There will always be other toddlers to amuse with silly games, giving their frazzled mothers a much-needed break. My children will only be this age once. I will enjoy it, cherish it, not wish them older or pine for their younger selves.
I loved the young family we were. I’m looking forward to seeing them grow into young adults. But more than anything, I’m perfectly content right where we are today.