Here is the most wonderful secret about parenting that nobody tells you: Your kid will grow up and might just be your friend.
If it happens, it will be long after the daily discovery of baby spit on your shoulder, of dazed nights when you are nothing but a 24-hour milk bar, of relinquishing your Netflix algorithms to the riptide of Power Rangers and Octonauts.
After the hardest and earliest years, your kids will explore their own interests and hobbies. You are more of a facilitator (and Uber driver) for guitar lessons, dance, summer camp and Little League.
Modern parenting often gets a rep for being joyless, and some of this is for good reason. Contrary to conventional wisdom, having children does not make you happier, according to the research. It can seem like a daily grind of fretting over the snack supply, collecting unmated miniature socks, and negotiating with a terrorist.
But then they enter the golden age of childhood. My older son just turned 10, and I don't know if it gets any better than this.
The other day he offered me a chance to ride his new mountain bike before he was headed off to a sleepover with his grandparents. "Mom, you want to try it?" he asked. "When the cat's away, the mice will play." He may have even winked at me.
All his life, I have reared him with silly clichés like this one. Now my son was repeating it to me, not only in the appropriate context but with joyful satisfaction, and I was conflicted between two thoughts: "Goodness, how did my son get to be so corny?" And: "My son is as corny as me, and I am in love!"
Maybe this realization came to me so late because I'm a mom of two squirrely boys, and as such, have long been outnumbered. They are feral like their dad. Any type of fart joke hits their sweet spot. Unlike me, they are Minnesota-bred and gravitated to sports and fishing and The Griddy. I was always happy to fall in line, enjoying the things that made them happy even if they didn't necessarily connect to me.
Earlier, there were times when my eldest would reject my sense of humor, especially if it were in public. The first time I felt the comedic gulf between us was when I was dropping him off at preschool and reminded him of a family trip to "Duluth, Duluth, DULUTH IS ON FIRE!" (This was accompanied by thrusting my palms and elbows out, in a raise-the-roof nod to the '90s. Trust me, I was hilarious.) The look of mortal embarrassment on his face — wide saucers for eyes — told me I needed to shut up, stat.
Now he loves terrible puns. And theater. And sushi. And "The Little Prince." A couple of months ago we went to see the Guthrie's adaptation of the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry classic, which reminds us that things are precious because of the time you put into them, and maybe there's no better metaphor for parenthood.
In the book, the narrator and the little prince find a well in the middle of the desert. Exhausted and parched, they pull the rope to lift the bucket and take a drink, admiring the sunlight shimmering in the water.
"This was not ordinary food of course, but it might just as well have been," the narrator says. "The sweetness of this water was born from the long walk under the stars, from the song of the pulley, and for the effort of pulling up that bucket."
The paradox of having children is that it is equal parts exhaustion and reward. It is a gift made sweeter by the energy, time, heartache and love we expend on it. Sometimes it takes a decade to be blown away by its sweetness.
I've been told by parents with older kids that age 10 is when they become independent, when true character reveals itself, when they still think their parents are cool. But, they've warned, it is a fleeting moment, a golden hour, before hormones and peer pressure and defiance get in the way.
So when my son reaches for my hand on the way to the bus stop, I'm surprised. My heart swells to three times its size. I want to tell him: Don't grow up too fast, kid.
But we'll still be friends when you do.