This morning, cup of chai tea and homemade blueberry–er, muffin (yeah, let’s call it a muffin, but I need to work on that recipe)–in hand, I sank down onto the couch only to leap back up suddenly. It seems my backside had found the lone matchbox car that had become wedged between two cushions over the weekend.
The toy car had strayed from its forty or so other comrades, who had been patiently lined up on the floor by Cate, waiting in line to take on the obstacle course her brothers had built from blocks and Lincoln Logs.
These are my kids: old enough to be left home alone for several hours, yet still scattering matchbox cars around my living room. We’ve entered the no man’s land of parenting. We’re in the zone between the battlefield of toddlerhood and what is sure to be an all out war during the teenage years. And it’s so oddly wonderful and beautiful that I never want it to end.
Sometimes I get reminders of what it used to be like, often followed immediately by flashes of what the future holds. Such is the atmosphere in No Man’s Land.
My kids don’t call me Mommy anymore, but they still call for me on a regular basis. This past week Thomas got off the school bus with a fever, and the first thing he did when he saw me was tear up in relief–because Mommy makes it all better. Of course he spent the better part of the weekend, after having a bad reaction to the antibiotic, giving me one word or very vague answers to my inquiries about his stomach pains, just as an almost teenager should.
Last night, Cate crawled into my lap wanting her back rubbed. She’s almost as big as me now, so this is rather comical, but I’m more than happy to oblige my baby. I tried to focus on this happy moment this morning when she had what appeared to be an anxiety attack more appropriate for a fourteen year old girl, all over whether or not she should take her violin to school today or tomorrow. And while she still wants me to pin her bun up for ballet class, I get the sideways stare now if I offer to do her hair for school.
Meanwhile there’s Henry. What seemed like just plain trouble-making when he was a toddler, has morphed into something more akin to determination. I have at least three different videos of him, still in diapers, covered in some sort of food–chocolate, spaghetti sauce, oatmeal–that he managed to procure for himself by climbing the cabinets. And those were just the times I managed to get out the camera. Recently, dissatisfied with the information he was getting out of John and I regarding our possible future vacation plans, Henry researched the trip himself, then presented the family with a detailed powerpoint presentation. He also frequently scales the shelves in the garage to bring down items we have placed out of reach. We have no idea how he has not been seriously injured yet.
This morning on Facebook, my friend Kristen posted a link to an article about not knowing when it’s the last time for something in your kids’ lives. For example: the last time they fall asleep in your arms, or the last time you wash their hair in the bath. You might not realize at the time that it’s the last time. Some things are more obvious: for example next year, when I drop a kid off at elementary school for the last time.
There are a lot of “last times” in No Man’s Land, and if I focus on that, it can be a little bit sad. But only for a second…because along with that feeling of wistfulness is a feeling of excitement about all of the firsts there are still to come. Just like the first time John and I went on a friday night date and didn’t have to call a sitter. Or the first time I heard Thomas play the violin, or ate the dinner he made us, or enjoyed a book that he recommended to me, instead of the other way around.
And I know it means I have to get older, and all the nice kids in the neighborhood will stop pretending to think I’m barely thirty, but I’m still excited for all the firsts to come: like Prom, and moving into college dorms, and dating. And let’s be honest–probably some knock down drama over car keys and whatever it is Henry manages to set on fire.
Until then, I’m feeling pretty safe here in the great in-between.
These three photos seem like a scary glimpse into their future: