It hit me like a ton of bricks last week. I was at the community pool, looking around to see what my kids were up to. Then I really looked at them. The big one was playing with her friends, her long arms and legs splashing. The little one was throwing herself off the diving board like a boss. The boy was in the shade, cracking jokes with his buddies. As I sat there drinking lukewarm coffee, I realized, Oh my God. Here I am.
Let me backtrack for a second. The day before had been rough. I'd woken up determined that it was going to be great. That I would not go to bed that night, replaying all my parenting mistakes, per usual. And I spent the entire day being a really good mom. I was engaged and understanding. I was firm but kind. I did not yell at anyone or get distracted by my phone. I was like this all day and it was freaking exhausting.
And of course it was the same day that my kids decided to turn our house into Thunderdome, fighting with each other constantly. I thought ordering a pizza for dinner would help turn it around. Then this happened:
This day really wasn't going to end any other way.
Have you ever had a day like that? Where everything just degenerates into a huge goat rodeo? It was awful. So there I was the next morning at the pool, really looking at my kids. And even though we were still all fresh from the goat rodeo, I realized:
- Those are my kids right there: swimming and healthy and beautiful.
- Wait. Hold up. I'm not sitting in the too-warm baby pool, trying to pretend that it's not disgusting.
- And I'm not changing diapers in the sweltering summer heat because everyone in my family can wipe their own nethers.
- I haven't had to tell anyone not to drink the pool water this summer.
- I haven't used a stroller in over a year.
- We are all (mostly) sleeping through the night.
- They hardly ever scream "mommy mommy mommy MOMMMYYY!!!" every two minutes anymore.
- I can pee by myself (almost 40 percent of the time).
- They are sort of independent and (somewhat) helpful lately.
- Yet they still need me and want me to be with them.
- I can get hugs and kisses and snuggles whenever I want.
- But they can also take out the garbage.
- They're big, but they're still little.
I'm in the sweet spot.
I sat there for a moment and let it sink in. I've been so deep in The Blur for so many years. Not sleeping, eating cold mac and cheese off of Winnie the Pooh plates. Every day determined by nap schedules, nursing, diaper changes and preschool pick up. But that has changed over the past year or so, without me even noticing.
The Blur will do that to you, though it's starting to soften around the edges. No. That's a bad analogy. It's not softening at all, in fact it's the opposite. It's sharpening around the edges. Things are coming into focus and I'm beginning to see clearly.
I get it now. They were right. Everyone who said it would go by so fast. It's happening to me. It's whizzing by. When my three kids were very little, the days were so long and my world felt very small and sometimes very lonely. If the days were long, the nights were longer. The hour before my husband got home from work? It took three days to get through that hour.
But there was also the smell of the top of their baby heads. And the pudgy, little kissable feet, that are now big and stinky. Their bodies that used to be part of me, are now entirely their own. They're not little anymore. That part of my life is over. And I find myself here, with three medium sized kids, in the sweet spot. I'm equal parts grateful and terrified.
Oh God, please let this time last. Please slow it down a little bit. I didn't even realize we were here until the moment was half over. And what's coming next? Snapchat? Pimples, bras, curfews, pressure to make the same bad choices I did and just... All of it. I can wait for that. Can I just stay here with them a little longer? Can you please keep them safe and beautiful and young just a little while longer?
I spent all day mulling over the sweet spot, my perspective on yesterday's disasters flipped around. In hindsight, the pizza on the driveway was kind of funny.
That night I had a long conversation with my kids about how they thought our summer was going. At one point, my 8-year-old son started talking about something he'd learned during swim team. Something about pushing off the wall and gliding before you take the first stroke. He was waving his arms and twisting his tanned, skinny torso around the kitchen to demonstrate. Then he stopped -- still as a statue -- with one arm curved high above him, his face turned and lifted upward.
Then he resumed his flapping around and said: "DID YOU SEE THAT? THAT WAS THE SWEET SPOT. WHEN YOU TURN YOURSELF AND LOOK AND BREATHE REAL DEEP. IF YOU DO THE SWEET SPOT JUST RIGHT YOU SET YOURSELF UP TO BE COMPLETELY AWESOME." (My son has trouble using an inside voice. I'm pretty sure he doesn't actually have one.) "MOMMY, WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOUR FACE? ARE YOU CRYING? YOU LOOK CONSTIPATED. HAW HAW HAW!! NO SERIOUSLY, WHAT?"
And I explained to him that I had just been thinking about the sweet spot. And how I had figured out that we were in one right now -- as a family. He looked at me with pity in his eyes. It is delightful to be patronized by a third grader. He shrugged and looked at his sisters.
"You know there's a sweet spot in baseball, too, " I said.
The boy perked up. He loves baseball. "It's when a hitter swings, and the ball makes contact with the bat in the perfect place. It's when everything lines up just right and everything is where it's supposed to be. And the ball flies. It just soars. It makes a noise. Do you know what I'm talking about?"
He nodded and so did the girls. They'd heard the noise before. They'd seen the ball jump off the bat and fly away. Away from the person who'd hit it perfectly.
I guess the constipated look came back to my face, but this time my kids just shook their heads and went into the other room to watch Call of the Wildman. They left me alone in the kitchen, awkwardly swallowing back tears.
I guess it's OK that the sweet spot is fleeting. It's supposed to be. It has to be. As with everything else, it has a time and a purpose. I think we're supposed to use the sweet spot to align ourselves for whatever is going to come next. To put all the pieces together as well as we can, for as long as we can. So that if we're very lucky, our kids can glide forward and know when to turn and when to breathe and when to start to kicking.
If raising children is like baseball or swimming, getting it right must be a cocktail of luck, faith, and showing up every day to do the work. And of course, never quitting (even when it all seems like a hopeless goat rodeo). And if you do it well, they won't just leave you. When they go, they will soar away. And all you can hope is that you set them up TO BE COMPLETELY AWESOME.
Julianna W. Miner has three kids, ages 4, 8 and 10. She teaches at a college she couldn't have gotten into because she made bad choices in high school. Her blog is Rants from Mommyland, where this post originally appeared.
Watch Julianna on HuffPost Live