I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but it happened.
Was it sometime this summer? Or did it happen before then, maybe last fall? Did it happen in a sudden flash, like the Big Bang, marked by some kind of milestone that I missed along the way? Or was it a more gradual process, indiscernible on a daily basis and then one day—POW!—the reality is obvious and undeniable?
I’m not sure when or how it happened, but here we are in the midst of the in-between years.
There were days when I honestly didn’t think we’d make it to the in-between years. I assumed we would be stuck in the Groundhog Day–cycle of the baby-toddler-preschool years. I was certain—absolutely certain—that parenthood would be an endless loop of diaper changes and nap schedules and time-outs.
But both of my children are in school now—kindergarten and third grade, respectively—and they no longer seem to fit into any of the prescribed phases of childhood. We have long since left the Jekyll-and-Hyde-ness of newborn and toddler years. And while they might still act like threenagers now and then, those times are fewer and farther between. We are still a few years away from the tornado that is adolescence, and several years away from the nest-leaving years of young adulthood. My sons are young, but not too young; they are big, but not too big. They are simultaneously big kids and little kids. They are in-between.
The in-between years means that they are old enough to ask (and understand) what sex is, but young enough that they still believe in Santa. We aren’t held hostage to a nap or bedtime routine, but they still want tuck-ins and sleep with blankies. Instead of t-ball, we now watch kid-pitch baseball, though it’s not uncommon for at least one player to be crying on the bench. Our summer has included sleepovers and jumps off the high-dive, but it has also included parades and the kiddie-pool. We watched “The Hobbit” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” as well as “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” and “Gravity Falls.” They can shower alone, but bathing is still an every-other-day occurrence because their bodies haven’t been taken over by raging hormones and body odor.
There is something ideal about the in-between years when the toils of parenting balance out with the innocence of childhood, when our children need us in a less desperate and all-consuming way and they want us in a more calm and balanced way. You know, they don’t call the in-between years the sweet spot for nothing.
But while there is something sweetly innocent and precious about the in-between years, when our children still need a kiss and hug before bed, these years are also a bit unsettling. With each new badge of independence, my children stretch their wings a little further and I can feel the threads of childhood slowly unraveling. Not to mention the fact that I am acutely aware of the chaos that lies ahead. The in-between years are an odd-mixture of relief, worry, excitement, fear, contentment and confusion.
And these aren’t just the in-between years for my children, either. These are in-between years for me as a mother. For the past 9 years, I have been a stay-at-home parent and the routine of my children’s days created the routine for my own days, as well. But with my youngest son in kindergarten, I can feel the expanse of the world opening back up—a prospect that is liberating and paralyzing, exhilarating and overwhelming all at the same time.
Some days the newness of the in-between years feels like stepping on burning hot sand. I step lightly and quickly, sometimes making rash decisions about what to do next, fearful that a moment will pass me by if I’m not careful and worried that an opportunity for what-comes-next might vanish if I don’t seize it. Other days, I feel like I’m being swallowed by thick and heavy quicksand, pulled down by the confusion of shifting roles and altered responsibilities.
Most days, though, I feel like I’m walking along the beach, the sand wet but firm. The tide may be rolling in or out, I’m not really sure. Soon enough the landscape will change significantly and I will need to adjust accordingly. For now, though, the shoreline feels soft and cool and pleasant.
So today I’m trying to focusing on the for now part. For now, the in-between years are exactly where I want to be.