The sweet spot

We went camping (yeah, yeah, I went camping and I may have even enjoyed myself in The Nature, but let's not get preoccupied with that right now) with some friends a couple of weekends ago. As far as camping goes, it was pretty much the closest thing to Not Camping as camping gets: driving to a provincial park campground and unloading the car, the requisite air mattresses, surrounded by other people. Etc. On our first night there, Rowan and his friend, Ben, took off on their bikes to the children's program, which started at 8 PM.

And then they biked home, those two seven-year-olds, cycled home at 9:40 PM through the darkening campground, cycled home just the two of them, as though it were the most natural thing in the world, to be out on their own, on two wheels, in the dark and utterly confident.

It's just one more indicator that we may be nearing what I hear tell people call "the sweet spot": those magic years sometime between the ages of eight and twelve when your kids make unimaginable leaps toward independence but still want to tell you about what they did that day; where they mellow a bit, take things down a notch, say, from how they were at four and five with the constant, aggrieved, attitude; where you realize that you have read an entire magazine article while drinking your tea and you look up and your kid is dressed and is pouring himself a glass of milk.

Where they clip their own fingernails.

Where you hand them the phone and say, "Text Rachel for me and tell her we’ll be late."

Where they take out the garbage.

When you say, "Hey! Let's go mail a letter!", and two children shout, "I'm coming too!", and you all walk to the mailbox and back in the after-dinner sunlight, chatting and holding hands and remarking on your very tall, hand-holding shadows, and you've taken nothing with you but the letter and your keys.

Where they may deign to use a Kleenex.

(Okay, that last one hasn't actually happened yet.)

That's really all it is, a series of tiny moments strung together like beads on a fraying string, eventually getting closer and closer together.

"Four measly years out of, what? Eighteen? Twenty-five?" a friend of mine recently grumbled. And I totally get her point. But, nearly eight years in, I'll take it. It may be brief, and fleeting — and, frankly, it may be just an urban myth that will never extend beyond my children's current moment — but I'm holding on tight for my break, fingering each bead as though it's a prayer, marvelling that we got here from there.

(What are your sweet spots?)