My oldest son was born six days after we had arrived at our new home, an eight-hour drive from our friends and family, with all our belongings crammed into a Chrysler minivan and U-Haul truck.
We thought we would have two to three weeks to settle in before our new bundle would arrive, but my water broke first thing on the Monday morning after we had moved in. My hospital bag was packed and sat ready to go in my closet, right next to the other boxes of clothes that would have to wait to be opened later. Apparently, the little guy just wanted to see what all the commotion was about.
He was the kind of baby who slept so soundly in his swaddling blanket that he needed to be gently woken up to nurse. He fit so perfectly snug in the crook of my arm and simply allowed himself to be carried around like a football. He was a dream baby, and I appreciated his temperament all the more after having had twin infants less than two years prior.
His older twin sisters were honing in on their second birthday, and boy, were they a handful. They would run in polar opposite directions on the playground: one determined to climb a dangerously high structure, while the other one would giggle as she bolted for the woods in a game of chase. When my husband brought them into the hospital room to meet their new brother, I definitely acquired a few new gray hairs as they curiously tugged on monitor wires and loudly opened and shut cabinet doors.
We made the move for my husband’s new job, and thankfully, his new co-workers showed up on our new doorstep during the next few weeks with meals and helpful information about our new town. Most of the conversations included sentiments of solidarity, both nostalgic and sympathetic tones in their voice. “I remember those days,” and “if there’s anything at all that you need…” became predictable but welcome phrases. One particular comment, however, threw me off guard and puzzled me. It was from a gentleman whose children were now grown. “Ah, you’re just about to hit it. The best stage: ages 2-6. It’s my favorite.” I smiled politely and thanked him for the advice, but shook my head in disbelief after he left.
Really, ages 2-6? The years of potty training mishaps and messy crafting of picky eating and tantrums that have yet to be outgrown? And with my experience with the twins, who were as sweet and cute as much as they were exhausting to herd, I dismissed this strangers’ words as someone who had been out of the trenches long enough to forget the diaper failures, car seat wranglings, and defiant naptime battles, while still holding onto the sweet memories of snuggles at storytime.
As we settled into our new surroundings and adjusted to life with three littles, we slowly discovered daily and weekly routines that worked for us. When one woman asked in earnest how I survived each day with so many little ones, I would truthfully answer, “I only need to make it to 11 AM.” Because everything after 11:00 was ordered and predictable:
By 11:00, we started to get ready for lunch.
After lunch, we settled in for naptime (or quiet time, at least).
After nap, we would have a snack and play a little bit more.
Then it was time to get ready for dinner.
After dinner, bathtime.
After baths, bed.
The predictability and routine felt safe and comforting during a season of life that encompassed so much discovery and wonder in the big wide world.
When the girls turned three, we enrolled them in a preschool program two days a week for barely three hours a day— enough time for them to get some peer socialization, and for me to catch a breath and enjoy some time with my son. When we didn’t have preschool, I made a weekly plan of at least one park day, a library day, and a chocolate chip cookie baking day. The schedule kept me sane. It was a season of life that was exhausting and demanded superior patience. A season where I had to say no to a lot of my own projects and desires, a season where we were limited by my children’s stamina, mobility, and their ability to process it all.
But the grace in all of this was the simplicity.
Parenting two preschoolers and a baby certainly wasn’t simple in the sense of easy, but our daily activities and subsequent joys did lack a complexity that adults tend to carry in their daily living. If we passed a farm on the road, shrieks of delight exclaimed, “Tractor! Cows!” Getting stuck behind a school bus, or at a railroad crossing, kindled their fascination, and I’d cease to perceive such delays as inconveniences. I can’t say I long for those tender preschool years, but I do look back nostalgically to the time when the order of the day was playing with blocks, spending an hour on the playground, and creating an unrecognizable craft with cotton balls, glue, and construction paper.
One day after church, and after a particularly draining morning of mischief in the pews, we were chatting with a woman whose sons were in high school and college. As she observed our wiggly children she noted, “Ah, you’re almost at the sweet spot: ages 7-11. It’s the best stage.” I nodded my head, knowing there most certainly would be aspects of that stage we could look forward to, but I also knew there would inevitably be challenging moments as well. I am learning that I may one day look back and prefer a particular stage, but I can’t expect any one stage of life to be perfect.
These days I am soaking up all the treasures that come from seeing my children blossom in elementary school as we celebrate new milestones— like the ability to ride a bike, read a book, and swim without arm floaties. After so many days of being stuck in the driveway among tricycles and giant push toys, we can now go on bike rides and longer hikes together. Yet, the school-age years have brought friendship drama, homework challenges, and busier schedules. Their childhood has become just a little more complicated, and I sigh, knowing it will continue in that direction as they grow and mature.
I’m not quite ready to announce, “Ah, the preschool years. Those were the days…” because my memory still contains images of frustrating moments and seemingly never-ending neediness. However, I am beginning to understand what that gentleman so fondly remembers; I miss hearing those mispronounced words and seeing those sweet smiles full of baby teeth. I suppose the best thing for now is to absorb the precious moments, and shrug off the challenging ones. If I want to experience joy in parenting, I’ll have to keep my eyes open and my heart soft, because unexpected joys happen in every stage of this crazy ride.
Kimberly Lynch is a wife, mother, coffee junkie, and writer. She blogs regularly at passingthroughmountains.com and is a member of hope*writers. A self-proclaimed introvert with a deep interior life, Kimberly finds inspiration in God’s creation and is learning to seek Him in the day-to-day routines of life. She and her husband, two displaced New Englanders, raise their six children in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Find Kimberly on Facebook and Instagram.