Parenting can feel like a white-knuckle ride sometimes – I know you know what I'm talking about.
Babies are beautiful, but so hands-on and 24/7. Toddlers are cute as a button, but incredibly demanding and unpredictable. And then when they start school, our hearts have not only jumped out of our chests and are walking around, but they have this whole other life we don't know about...until they bring home some virus they picked up from a classmate.
It's all hard work in a way that means we never truly relax, and we even sleep on high alert, our spider senses tingling at the slightest stirring or neediness. Life just feels so fragile, and on a knife's edge.
I've been parenting now for over 16 years, and there's something I've found my three children have had in common. They've all become magically easier at the same age.
My youngest, also my most – ahem – high-maintenance baby, recently hit that magic age and I was reminded again of how wonderful it can be.
My only daughter was not an easy baby – she had colic for months and would only sleep if I held her upright on me until she was about six months old. Later on, she had night terrors and would up screaming for no reason we could ever identify.
As a toddler she was sassy and hilarious, but also stroppy and demanding. Compromise, reason and open conversations were not her bag. "No" was her favourite word.
She wouldn't take medication of any kind, so when she was sick, she either stayed sick, or we entered into an awful wrestling match where I'd try to pin her down and wrangle a syringe into the back of her throat.
As she started school, my daughter began to mellow a bit and see the lighter side of life, but she always felt just a hair's breadth away from hysterics. Sometimes she would still wake up crying, unable to tell me what was wrong, but requiring many a midnight cuddle. My heart broke for her, but for me it was exhausting.
Until, that is, her most recent birthday.
Late last year, my daughter turned eight, and the sun finally appeared from behind the clouds.
The change was almost instantaneous, and I was reminded that the same thing happened with my two sons as well. Although they were easier babies than my daughter, there was something magical that happened around that eighth birthday.
They became independent, able to calibrate their emotions, interesting conversationalists, self-soothing to the extent that I'm not required for every little disappointment, and proactive in entertaining themselves.
Their creativity is fascinating and I love that each of my three kids is now their own unique person with ideas and points of view I'd never come up with myself.
Add to that, the children can pack their own lunches, tick off a list of age-appropriate chores, and flush their own toilets (most of the time), and this parenting gig has suddenly morphed into something I can actually relax and enjoy.
I know everyone is different and some people love that baby phase or those toddler years, but that was never me.
I love that my house is now filled with an eclectic group of people who enjoy one another's company, as well as their own. Each offers something unique and valuable to our home – and we laugh a lot.
I finally feel like I can unclench after 16 years. It's extraordinary, and I'm savouring every moment.