The early days of motherhood are a foggy half-conscious dream, or a nightmare some days. You wonder if you'll ever leave the house again, or wear real clothes again, or feel like a human who does things other than watch Thomas the Train and wipe up poop.
After a few years, the clouds part and one day you see yourself return. Maybe you had a quiet shower without interruption. Or you slept the whole night through. Or you went on a date with your husband and wore sexy boots. You realize you are conscious again. You made it through the storm. Your body might feel softer, you might see a few gray hairs, but you're still here.
Years down the line, after years of tiny feet bouncing downstairs at six a.m., the house begins to quiet. Part-time jobs, driver's licenses, girlfriends and boyfriends usurp the precious mom-time that used to be. You realize several days have passed and you haven't had a true conversation with your child.
Other than the pile of laundry he left at your feet, you wonder how much he needs you and misses you anymore. He lives on his phone, and you pray to the anti-cyberbulling and anti-sexting gods that he'll somehow fly under the radar and miss all that. You pray because you don't know what else to do and you're watching him grow and slip away.
Those few years in between though – the years where you can steal moments to yourself now and then, but you hear their constant voices right outside your door – that's the sweet spot. When they are always close, but not completely attached. When they haven't gone out into the scary world yet, but they still leave your side now and then.
That's where I am right now, and I am trying to relish every moment, as I know my days are numbered in this place.
My kids are four, six, and eight. They run outside and play without me. I am asked on occasion to push one on the swing, but for the most part, they are happy with each other and the neighborhood kids. They wake up before me and creep downstairs, getting the I-Pad and Cheerios for themselves, which means I can sometimes sleep in (until they start fighting over couch cushions). The older ones have started going to playdates, but I still know exactly where they are, and the kids they are with.
We've graduated from Thomas the Train and Sesame Street. We now watch a lot of Star Wars instead. But they still let little brother pick morning TV shows and I often catch them all at 6:30 a.m. on the couch watching Mickey Mouse or PJ Masks.
They are still innocent.
They think stupid and shut up are "bad words."
None of them are online yet.
They still want to be with Mommy. All three ask me to snuggle at bedtime. My oldest asks me to play Monopoly or Chess after his siblings are asleep.
They enjoy having me volunteer at their school, help in their classrooms, hover around in their little worlds.
They all still hug and kiss me in front of their friends.
They haven't learned to lie yet. My eight-year-old often brings home a half-eaten sandwich and unopened fruit snacks from school. He hasn't yet learned that he can ditch the sandwich and enjoy the fruit snacks, and I'd never know.
They all still believe in Santa (or at least are willing to play along).
They don't talk back yet. (The worst I've gotten so far is an occasional eye-roll.)
They love going to school.
They still think homework is fun.
They all play "sports", and it's adorable and hilarious.
They know what to do in case of an emergency, which brings me immeasurable comfort.
None of them nap anymore, which gives us endless freedom.
I no longer lug a bulky diaper bag, but instead a "big" purse with an extra change of clothes for number three, just in case.
We can travel without a pack-and-play and 8,000 pacifiers.
We can grab some Cheez-its, a couple bottles of water, and we are out the door.
They still hold my hand.They still call me Mommy.
The truth is, they are a fun little group of people, and I enjoy taking them places. We hit a wall of exhaustion at times. We are not out of the woods completely with tantrums and meltdowns when we've pushed their little bodies too far. I am realizing, however, that these are truly good, happy years with us all together, eating popcorn, watching Friday night movies under a blanket on the couch. I hope we stay here for a while.
Four, six, and eight – The sweet spot.