For the first few years of parenting the milestones are so clear and momentous. First foods to first steps are all eagerly tracked and documented and, if you're fortunate, these milestones unfold as the baby development emails popping up in your inbox suggest they should.
Once children get a bit older, personality and individual strengths shape the person before you, and the next stage of parenting unfolds in a way that no weekly email can prepare you for.
With my youngest daughter turning five in a few days, the reminders are everywhere that I have well and truly moved on to the next stage of parenting:
1. My ovaries give a pang every time I see a baby, but just the thought of actually being pregnant and looking after a newborn exhausts me.
2. Marital discourse over pill vs. condoms has been replaced with vasectomy vs ... well, nothing really. I gave birth to three kids; I've done my part.
3. Achieving quasi sleep-ins on the weekend. While parenting has left me unable to enjoy a deep sleep as I register every sound the kids make, I can now roll back over in bed while they make breakfast and keep themselves entertained until a reasonable hour. At which point I enter a kitchen that looks like the cereal aisle at Coles has exploded onto every visible surface. But it's still worth it.
4. I grab all the cuddles I can from my four-year-old, conscious that soon she also will be too big to hold in my lap.
5. I'm finally ready to get a dog. I've been promising the kids a dog for years but haven't had the energy to deal with a pet that requires the attention of a newborn. Now the kids are old enough to share the responsibilities of a pet and I'm preparing for the teenage years when, I've been told, it's a good idea to have a dog so someone is happy to see you when you walk in the door.
6. I no longer need to cart around an oversized bag filled with wipes, nappies, dummies, emergency toys and snacks. To the great delight of my long suffering back I can now leave the house with kids in tow and a handbag that's too small for any wayward toy to sneak its way in.
7. There will be the odd night when a child is sick or having a nightmare and my body will be unable to cope with even one night's interrupted sleep after enduring rolling wake ups for years. On most nights however, active parenting duty can end at 8pm and not start again until a respectable hour in the morning. Unfortunately I'm now too old and tired to make the most of the extra hours, and regularly collapse into bed soon after saying goodnight to the kids.
8. My eldest is now in grade four, probably the first class at primary school I really remember. She's reading the same books I loved at that age - Mallory Towers, Heidi, Anne of Green Gables - and introducing me to new books like Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. It's awesome.
9. The downside of this is that she can read anything. WhatsApp, text messages, emails - all seem to be fair game as I realised when I saw my daughter had messaged her dad from my phone.
10. My daughter has just discovered cooking. Last weekend pancakes were delivered to me in bed. I just have to introduce her to the coffee machine and I'll be set.
11. With no pram to load up I am stuck actually carrying things when we go on longer trips. I have found any excuse to hang onto the pram that was my daily companion on endless runs to the supermarket and became a little home for the kids when we went travelling. It's the only piece of baby paraphernalia that I haven't been able to let go of, and is rapidly collecting dust in the basement.
12. On the other hand, no sentimentality has held me back from the delicious spring clean of getting rid of all the other baby stuff. So. Much. Stuff. Cots, high chairs, change tables have all found new homes and have rapidly been replaced with new junk.
13. Shopping for kids' clothes used to be fun when I could wander around shops and pick out the clothes I liked. Now clothes shopping is a drawn out, painful negotiation. My daughters each have a very definite sense of what they do and do not like, and I have a very clear idea of what my eyes can tolerate. Hot pink anything is a sticking point. My four-year-old recently decided to put on a pair of jeans and I was genuinely excited to see denim on one of my daughters.
Some things have yet to change, and I'm clinging onto them. It didn't even occur to me until recently that one-day my girls would no longer want me to read books to them. So I'm savouring those quiet moments together, sharing stories and listening to the world they develop in their imaginations while I can, because these years are slipping by just as fast.