The Sweet Spot

Our family on pirate night on board the Disney Cruise. Meet my husband of 14 years, Mike, and our sons Braden (11), Matthew (7) and Gavin (5). 

The concept for this blog came to me about a month ago, after reading a Facebook article about how kids change after age 12. (Note to self: don’t read parenting blogs before bed, because that’s all you’ll think about). The cliff notes version of the article was this – kids become real jerks once they turn 12-ish and it lasts for a few years. Awesome.

Since our oldest, Braden, will turn 11 in September, I quickly determined we have less than 18 months with our mostly loveable son. The realization triggered this thought: Mike and I are in a good place right now! Braden still likes us. Our nearly eight-year old, Matthew, is relatively independent. And our youngest, Gavin, is five and pretty self-sufficient, other than needing help with an occasional ‘messy wipe.’

Anyways, this Facebook article, coupled with some supporting observations, prompted this theory – we had arrived at the sweet spot of parenting. One proof point took place at my niece’s 5th birthday party at The Little Gym. I watched Braden – a foot taller and nearly six years older than the kids in the room – participate in the activities without hesitation. The coach jokingly called him the great grandfather of the group. He skipped, crawled and tumbled with kids who were just reaching the fifth finger of their first hand. I adoringly watched him and thought, “Yes, this must be it. We truly are in the sweet spot of parenting. Enjoy it.”

My theory proved true again as I was packing that following week for spring break, a much-anticipated long weekend at the “most magical place on Earth” followed by a Disney cruise. As I packed three boys in just two small suitcases – sans toys, snacks, diapers, wipes, etc. - I thought to myself, “Yes, this must be it. We truly are in the sweet spot of parenting. Enjoy it.” 

I expected further proof of my theory to appear during those eight days away. I expected to share stories about how our boys fought over who sat together on the rides they were finally all tall enough to ride. Or how enjoyable our meals were together as a family. Or how Mike and I lounged poolside while the boys frolicked in the pool or ocean together. Because again, this trip should be much easier now that the boys are older, but not too old of course.  

Um, no.

Don’t get me wrong. It was a wonderful getaway, but it was not the easy-breezy vacation I expected.

The fact that our boys no longer wear a pull-up to bed or ask us to cut their food into little bites does not mean we avoid whining, crying, arguing or meltdowns. What I learned in those eight days together is this – there is no singular sweet spot. But there are so many moments that make life sweet:

  • During our four-hour delay in Cleveland, we learned that Braden didn’t complete his journal entries before break. Needless to say, he spent several hours writing six entries that had to fill an entire page. He groaned, complained, scribbled and erased his way through those entries while I encouraged, pushed and corrected him. He was often reminded how his decision impacted not only him, but me. Yet, I don’t know that I’ll ever forget reading his written words: what his goals are for the future; his birthday wish; his favorite smells; and where he wants to visit someday and why (it’s Europe with his parents, so take that Facebook!). As painful as it was, it was also a cool way to get to know him even better.
  • When we visited Epcot, Test Track was down all day, so we opted to use our FastPass for Soarin’ instead. Of course, Test Track re-opened with a 180-minute wait. We decided to skip it this visit and just let the boys explore the Chevy vehicles at the ride exit. Here, Mike was approached by an employee asking about our experience. After he explained what happened, she offered us all FastPass access! Woot! Everyone was thrilled…except the two younger boys. While we knew Matthew wouldn’t ride, we fully expected Gavin, who we affectionately call the Gavmanian Devil, to love it. Instead, he cried, whined and complained his way through the line. As he was designing his car in the Chevy Design Center, he decided with a shrug, “I wanna to try it." So, he rode with Mike and Braden, then again with me and Braden, thanks to the rider swap program. He would have rode 10 more times if he could have, and I would have followed to experience that ride through his eyes.
  • On the much-anticipated pirate night on board the cruise, we followed the tip from our waiter to watch the Pirates of the Caribbean show and fireworks from the 12th floor of the ship, starboard side. We headed to our spot about an hour before showtime. I let the boys bring their light-up Jedi swords and had visions of them dueling it out, while we sipped cocktails and enjoyed the ocean breeze. Instead, Matthew had an epic meltdown. He didn’t want to watch the fireworks and wanted to go to the room. Neither Mike nor I would give in because we knew he was scared, and he would love the show (this would mark the third time he’d see it). He cried, yelled, kicked and stomped for a good 50 minutes; it was mortifying. Finally, he calmed down and asked if I would go somewhere else to watch the show instead of on the open deck. We found a place on the level below, protected by glass. I’ll always remember holding him in my lap and watching the fireworks with him. It was a magical moment, even though it wasn’t what I expected.

There are so many more examples of how expectations fell short, yet the challenges of parenting transitioned into memories that will last forever. No one ever said all memories are good ones! What I’ve come to realize is that my theory is wrong. There will never be a singular sweet spot – where all things line up perfectly. Maybe Braden will complete all his work independently, yet no longer reach between the seats for my hand on the Magical Express to thank me for planning the best vacations ever (true story). Maybe Matthew will outgrow his apprehension about everything new and take on the world, or maybe not. Perhaps Gavin will trust his parents when we encourage him to try something new, from thrill rides to other areas of the food pyramid. I won’t hold my breath.

I always say family vacations are simply an opportunity to take kids – along with their good and bad quirks - to a location away from home. That still holds true. There is no magical age where they will do and be all I expect them to be, all at the same time. But there are so many wonderful moments past every twist and turn. And that’s what gives me the courage to continue discovering what’s next for each of them. Because life, and even vacations, are full of sweet spots.

“So yes, this is it. We truly are in the sweet spot of parenting. Enjoy it.”

Until next time,