This weekend I took a shower and left my children unsupervised. And not just a sixty second rinse where there’s leftover conditioner still in my hair, and I leave the shower curtain open. I actually used shampoo, soap, and conditioner. I even shaved my legs. While I engaged in this normal daily activity, my children occupied themselves in the living room.
It may seem insignificant, but when you’ve got little kids that require constant attention, any step toward independence feels like a major milestone. If this blog had a larger following, I’m sure someone would leave a comment about neglect and the dangers that lurk around every corner. And I understand the reality of this. But neither of my kids put foreign objects in their mouths anymore, they can both walk without fear of falling, and I’m ten feet away in the shower, not out shopping.
On Sunday my older daughter turned eight. Last month my younger daughter turned four. And in the space of these two birthdays, my young family has turned an important corner. We seem to be exiting the stage of mild daily chaos.
There are no more diapers or bottles in my house. No pacifiers or baby monitors. No high chairs or booster seats, Pack n plays, strollers, or Baby Bjorns, and the crib needs to go to the dump, since no one sleeps in it anymore.
This year, my husband and I have quietly noted some changes. The girls play together. Occasionally well. My eight year-old can get sucked into a book like a Facebook feed, and the four year-old sometimes disappears into her room to play with her dolls. Alone. And after the four year-old goes to sleep, the rest of us sit around in the living room, drink tea, and read. Our own books. What???
While I cautiously celebrate every tiny step in the direction of independence, calm, and peace in my household, already I see what we’ve left behind. The forty-five minute bedtime ritual is down to five minutes (okay, ten or fifteen), and though I’m grateful for the extra time in the evening, I know that one of these days I’ll be lucky to get a goodnight kiss. That sweet baby smell, you know the one, right in the folds of your kid’s neck? There are only traces of it left on the four year-old, though I sniff her soft skin like I’m doing deep breathing yoga exercises.
I hear we’re entering the sweet spot of parenting, after the exhaustion and chaos of baby and toddlerhood but before the riot of teenage years, those precious few years where our kids actually still like us but don’t require every single second of our attention. Though we’re leaving some things behind, I’m happy to settle in, cuddle with my girls while they’ll still allow it, enjoy not getting poop on my hands from changing diapers or smelling like spit-up every day. I’ll sleep through the night since now I understand the blessing of eight uninterrupted hours. And I’ll enjoy the last breath of baby smell on my daughter’s neck.
With the New Year comes something else if you live in New England…snow days. Or if not actual snow days, the potential for them.
Growing up, most children awaited news of a snow day via the radio. Sometime after seven, they’d hunch around the radio, listening to the long list of alphabetized cancellations, fingers crossed that their school would make the cut. As the daughter of a principal in the town where I attended school, my brothers and I were blessed with hearing the news first, by an early morning phone call when we were still tucked in bed. The ringing phone sometime after five AM was our indication that we could roll over and sleep for another few hours.
These days most of us hear about snow days by an automated text or phone call, yet the day and night prior to a snowstorm still prompts the same anticipation and weighing of the pros and cons of a possible day off. In our house, the conversation usually goes something like this:
“Looks like school might be cancelled tomorrow.”
“That would be great. Except then we’ll have to make up the day in June.”
“Yeah, but a day off would be great. Then we’d have a long weekend.”
“I know, but it’s only January. We just got back to school. A snow day now would be a waste. Plus it’s too early to start racking up snow days.”
“Maybe we’ll have a late start?”
“Those are such a pain. They’re so disruptive to the school day.”
“Yeah, but you don’t have to make those up.”
“I guess. I hope we have a snow day.”
“I’d rather save it for February, when we really need it.”
When I was a kid, my brothers and I would have a similar conversation with our mother the night before a snowstorm. Our mother’s reaction, to our intense annoyance, would always be the same:
“It doesn’t really matter what you hope for. Either we’ll have a snow day or we won’t. We don’t have any control over it.”
To which we’d groan, “Moooooom!” She wasn’t playing along with the game, which was more about the anticipation of a possible day off than anything else.
However, these days I find her approach comforting. There are so many things I feel I should be in command of—my children, my home, my classroom, the structure and order of my household. When there’s something truly beyond my control, I appreciate the chance to sit back and let nature run its course.
Today we had a delay, two extra hours to sleep in, have a lazy breakfast, and play outside. And as I drank my second cup of coffee, leisurely, as opposed to while I race around the house barking orders at my daughters, I thought of my mother and the freedom that comes with not having to be in control, even if just for a morning.