In the midst of the sleepless, diaper-changing fog that was a good eighty-percent of the first decade of my parenting career, I couldn't fathom that parenting would not always feel that way. I didn't see the end of nursing babies, potty training, toddler tantrums, and lining up five slices of homemade gluten-free bread to mass produce sandwiches like I worked at Subway. I saw no end to the laundry and dishes, to feeling stressed over the thought of getting five miniature tyrants all buckled in a minivan at the same time.
The end of that era has slowly crept over me like a gently fading evening when you look up from the flowerbed you've been weeding and realize the hot sun has cooled, and the fireflies are out, and you can see the first stars. The past ten months since we moved to our new house have felt like the east turning slowly from black to deep blue, to brilliant pink. Like a sunrise of parenting, or maybe just my soul.
I sleep now. I sleep in almost every day because the kids can make their own breakfasts. They play Legos, or Kinex, or Settlers of Catan and it's unlikely that anyone will die or permanently damage the house, and I sleep. I sleep like the land of Israel slept during the Babylonian captivity, enjoying all the sabbath rests I have missed. And I missed a lot over the last twelve years. I feel zero guilt in taking them now.
When I wake, if I find oatmeal and syrup drizzled around the floor and the table, I can call the guilty parties to the kitchen, and tell them to clean it up themselves, because they can do that now. They're getting all grown up, and it is wonderful.
I make exactly one bowl of oatmeal when I wake up now, and I pour one glass of orange juice--my own. I take a shower whenever I want to. I still have to cook most of the food for this family, but I can cook in peace, and sometimes I have help. Hannah especially likes to be in the kitchen. She likes to make cookies, and apple crisp, and little pizzas on thick-sliced homemade bread.
Naomi would rather quietly fold laundry while she hums by herself in the living room. She likes working by herself, making things nice and neat, and saving up the money we let her earn so she can buy another Lego set. Recently I have gone entire weeks without touching any laundry at all because she's been collecting it, washing it, drying it, folding it and putting it away for the entire family without me ever saying a word to her about it. Most days now, I find a fresh stack of my neatly folded clothes sitting on my bed. I put them in my drawers, and that is the end of my laundry duties.
Emma is a star during evening clean-up time. She is quiet and steady, working to make sure all the toys are picked up and the rooms are neat before bed. I never have to ask her twice and she usually does far more than her fair share of the work. I can't say the same for the boys, but they have definitely improved. They eventually clean up their room too now (sometimes after a consequence or two), and they've begun stepping up with chores. Elijah is the newest dishwasher unloader at my house, and he does a pretty good job.
Sometimes I still make large family meals, and we still sit down all at the same time and sing a Psalm together before we eat, but if I am in a hurry or just need a break, the kids can make their own sandwiches now. Every single child is capable of finding food for him or herself, and of cleaning up the table after they eat. When I need to pack a day's worth of food so we can take a trip, I can call Hannah and Naomi to pack the sandwiches and the zip-baggies of chips and dried fruit, and they willingly help.
What does all this mean for me? It means I am resting like it's my full-time job this year, and I am learning to play again. It means that I wake up with energy and sometimes look at a whole day ahead and realize, to my perpetual amazement, that I can enjoy that day with my kids.
We can go to the pool and it doesn't feel like work anymore: they put on their own swimsuits and sunscreen, four of them know how to swim and I'm not frantically trying to count five heads and make sure they're all above water. No one throws a public temper tantrum. While Elijah plays happily with his life-jacket on, Hannah and I can take turns throwing the diving sticks way out in the pool to see who can swim the farthest under water and retrieve them. We come up spluttering and laughing and do it again. Going to the pool with my kids is something entirely different now. It's fun.
We can take long walks in the county park, and enjoy feeding ducks and getting a little lost. I don't mean the way a preschool teacher enjoys walks in the park with her class, but more the way I used to walk in the woods with my seventh-grade friends. We imagine together, we explore together. We like each other's company.
We can come home to make sandwiches together and then settle down to a game of Scrabble, or Monopoly, or Settlers of Catan, and I don't go easy on them. We try to beat each other, and we love it.
This new phase of parenting feels a bit more like being an RA in a college dormitory. I still have to pull out my authority on a somewhat regular basis, and I'm certainly not afraid to do that, but most of the time we're making cookies and heading out on adventures together. We stay up way too late and talk about deep things, especially with Hannah. She is my new deep-thinking, somewhat irritating, but incredibly fun friend.
Friends. My children are my friends now. Real friends--the type you want to spend time with, even though they sometimes drive you nuts. The type you want to hurry and tell when something exciting happens or to hug when the news is terrible. They make me laugh, not with adorable baby faces and toddler antics anymore, but now with witty humor and quick puns and budding unique personalities. I like these people that they're growing up into. I'm so glad I get to spend my life with them.
My first sleepless nights with a newborn weren't exactly a surprise to me. I'd heard that sleepless nights happened. But somehow hearing didn't prepare me for the realities of parenting: not the sleepless nights, not the potty training, and not this newest phase either--the friendship.
Twelve years ago, ten years ago, and eight, and seven, and four years ago, I planted seeds. And oh, they've needed lots of water, and lots of weeding and protecting, but oh, how strong they've grown. Sometimes they now offer me shade, and protection. And the view on my farm is breathtaking.