“Okay, five minutes reading time, then lights out,” I said to my smallest, after his story.
“Six minutes? Pleeeeease?”
“Okay, you can have six minutes reading time,” I said, earning me a best mum ever badge that was much shinier than that worst mum ever one I’d got earlier for making him come on the school run (“but I want to play Lego – six is totally old enough to stay at home on my own”).
And it struck me as I went down to get him a glass of water, that this is the bit in the middle. I’d forgotten about it until that moment – a conversation with another parent a long time ago. She’d said the baby years are tough, and the teen years are tough, but there’s this golden time in the middle, when you come up for air. I think we’re up for air.
I found our old changing bag last week and threw it out. The cot is long gone, the buggy too. We can go to restaurants – though I wouldn’t chance it without colouring books and markers. We can book cinema tickets without anticipating an early exit. We’ve braved planes and hotels and even London city, and we came out smiling.
I can work (a little) while the kids are in the house – I spent every morning of our Christmas holidays on book edits while they watched TV. They can all put on their own seat-belts (though one likes to pretend otherwise.) They can all put on their own jackets (though again, one likes to pretend otherwise). Bedtime isn’t the two-hour saga it used to be. Two people no longer want stories read to them, and as for the third, I reckon I can handle the “six minutes instead of five” negotiation, and even the three trips downstairs for “water”, “something I forgot”, and “one more kiss”.
It’s not all plain sailing – far from it. The smallest still struggles with the structure and sitting-still requirements of school. And I almost never brave the shops with all three. Homework is zero craic, and there are regular arguments about pencils and personal space and singing and elbow-room.
But I don’t want to let those fraught moments blind me to what’s really happening – to obscure this bit in the middle. They’re no longer babies, but not yet teens; this is the golden time. A window of opportunity to do the things we couldn’t do back when tears were a standard feature of every hour (theirs and mine) before they no longer want to spend time with us at all.
Two-under-two was tough, three-under-five even more so. And I have no idea what to expect when all three are teens. But today I just have “children”. And now that I’m up for air, I’m ready to make the most of every second. (Even the elbow-room arguments.) (Yeah… no. Everything but the elbow-room arguments.)