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The very best years are not behind us

By Karen Stiller

As it turns out, all the little old ladies were right. When my kids were really young and I would be dripping with sweat trying to wrestle someone into a snowsuit in a public place, it seemed that there was always a kind older woman acting as both witness and prophet. She’d watch me for a moment, smile fondly and tell me that these were the best years of my life, and they would just fly by. Then she’d stroll away into her day of speaking in complete sentences and thinking in full thoughts, pushing her portable rolling cart full of library books she could read uninterrupted. She probably also got to use the washroom whenever she desired.

I didn’t believe the ladies then. Now, I’m starting to.

We have a teenager, a preteen and, thank goodness, a nine-year-old who still wants to cuddle. So we’re not quite out of the 100-Acre woods yet. But things have definitely changed. Our 14-year-old, who used to depend on me for understanding the origins of the universe and explaining why the birds sing, is skeptical when I tell him it’s time to change his socks. He used to rise with the sun and be just as warm and bright. Now he needs to be dragged by his ankles off the bed and out of that dark, smelly place he calls his room. He plays his guitar really, really loud — for hours — and clearly thinks we are all a bit silly.

My daughter, who has been stuffed to the brim with self-confidence since birth and raised in between the rough and tumble of two boys, is being slowly sucked into the soap opera that is Grade 6. I still remember that age and the friend-triangles that kept me awake at night, fretting about my future. Would Suzanne want to come to my sleepover? What was the meaning behind Carol’s icy glare during dodge ball?

Girls this age are trying to figure out what power they still have, will have, don’t have, should have — and it gets messy. My beautiful girl, who pretend-flew around our house with big, fake, glorious butterfly wings that I have been tempted to borrow, has entered the years of flinging herself face down on couches and feeling miserable for no apparent reason. There’s not a lot to do other than rub her back and reassure her that this too shall pass and the world will open up and offer fantastic possibilities sometime soon.

That’s what I have to remind myself of, too, as I try to whip up a new set of parenting skills for my 40s. Know when to cuddle; know when to stop. Know when to leave them alone; know when to break down the door. Know when to engage their friends in witty banter so they know how cool you really are; know when to shut up and dash to Sobeys for the chips and dip. Know when to dance to their music; and know when not to (okay, never dance to their music). Know when to let them go to a friend’s house on a Friday night; but do absolutely know when to pick them up again.

When I was deep in diapers and dirty dishes, living north of nowhere and trying to become a writer during nap times, time did not fly by. But we’ve always tried to listen to the prophets. We knew that the days were sweet, even when they were sour. I think we knew to savour them, at least most of the time. Which is exactly what my husband and I are trying to do right now, during this particular set of what I assume will also end up being some of the best years of our lives.

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