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.