When people think of the “golden years,” they usually think of retirement—perhaps a quaint little cottage up north or a condo in Florida, spending some easy years enjoying life after work is done but before old age sets in.
But there is another interlude between one hard thing and another, between the slog of toddlers and the horror of teens, and I’m in it now: the golden years of parenting. It’s almost hard to believe, and I sometimes hesitate to admit it for fear of angering the gods, jinxing it and calling calamity down upon us by hubris alone.
My life as a single parent of two children IS EASY RIGHT NOW. There it is, I said it: easy. After years of absolute hard work and literal blood, sweat and tears (and puke—oh, why do both my children and my dog get carsick?), life is pretty damn good. I sometimes feel like we’ve all become so used to being exhausted and broke, surrounded by constant need and demand, sticky fingers and vomit-encrusted seat belts, that we’ve failed to notice the calm. Other times, I doubt myself and think, Maybe I’m the only one?
But no, as I enter firmly into my second decade of parenting, I see it among friends as well: the eye of the storm.
Does parenting even matter?I don’t know how long the golden years of parenting last, or even when exactly they start. But there are signs. The last diaper is a distant memory. The last daycare bill has been paid, but there are still camp fees and some after-school care, perhaps. The kids can brush their own teeth, tie their own shoes (even their soccer cleats) and put their plates in the dishwasher (the wrong way, but still). There may be a booster seat involved, but—pure bliss—everyone does up their own seat belts. They zip their own coats, carry their own backpacks and wipe their own noses. I don’t want to brag, but mine sometimes even put away their own laundry, empty the dregs of their lunch boxes and walk the dog. And yet, they still like me, they have no social media, and their voices don’t drip with scorn when I offer my opinion in a store.
That will come, I know—I’m not oblivious. Even if I tried to be naive, friends with teenagers tell me “just wait.” (This is obnoxious, just as it was when they told pregnant me to “enjoy your sleep now.” Don’t be this person.)
For now, though, it is awesome, and I’m practising gratitude. I’m trying to notice it every day. In one of my Facebook groups the other day, a mother of a three-year-old asked when it gets easier—because it wasn’t easier for her yet and, in fact, it seemed to be getting harder because her child was demanding and awful and unreasonable and crazy. I wanted to say “Hang in there—it gets way, way easier.” But for some reason, it’s not a popular thing to say. Someone even chimed in to say that it gets harder when they’re older: little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems.
And I think, yes, but. My 11-year-old can roll her eyes with the best of them, and my nine-year-old is still scared of the dark (not officially but technically). Despite the lingering trials, life has gotten easier. If nothing else, they sleep through the night—as do I. They get up earlier than I do sometimes and don’t even wake me up before they go and watch TV. They don’t melt down in the checkout line or scream when they don’t get their way. They have not yet tried peach schnapps or the pink cans of vodka soda that are so popular these days.
Of course, the eye of the storm is a temporary thing—the dark dot on the weather radar, with red and yellow wind and rain circling just beyond. It’s peaceful here, and I’m getting stuff done before the wind picks up again. Both of mine have taken a home-alone safety course, and my eldest has done the babysitting course at the community centre. I can leave the house ALL BY MYSELF, leaving them on the couch, plugged into their docking stations, recharging. This freedom is still new and wonderful and a bit weird. I run to the grocery store alone, feeling a little disoriented, like I’ve left my purse somewhere or forgotten my keys. And I return home and there they are, unruffled by my absence.
I’ll be honest: It’s not perfect. The 11-year-old is an argumentative troll, and the nine-year-old is still a whiny drama queen. I still have to hiss at them between clenched teeth from time to time—but only sometimes. Mostly, they are reasonable and can solve their own troubles and discomfort and even —upon request—cook dinner for all of us. And maybe being less exhausted and demanded means that I’m more reasonable, too. A little more rested. Not yet old but older. And I’m enjoying the interlude before the storm descends again.