We’ve had to turn on the heat in the early mornings, which are staying darker, longer. Leaves of orange and brown rustle under the empty swings at the park, and when the wind blows through the trees they rustle as only dry leaves about to drop can. It’s official: autumn is here.
There’s something to be said for embracing the season for what it is, not trying to make it what it isn’t.
In our family, we’ve been trying to eat with the seasons, so the past couple of weeks we’ve celebrated with one of our favourite foods: apples. We’ve had apple cheddar melts for dinner (a few slices of homemade bread topped with caramelised onion chutney, thin layers of crisp apple, and thick slices of cheddar, under the grill until the cheese is brown and bubbly). Apple slices with peanut butter or chunks of cheese. Apples are available year-round, of course, but in summer they are mostly shipped in from places like South Africa. They never taste half as good as British apples in autumn and winter, which tend to be crisper and sweeter, with a satisfying crunch when you bite them.
Similarly, we’ve had several weeks of worshipping all that is summer. My five-year-old spent a few good weeks trying to climb every single tree he passed; none were safe from him trying to get a leg up on them. We had adventures exploring, from the seaside to joining the throngs at tourist hot spots in London. We spent lazy afternoons at the playgrounds with the best shade, treating ourselves to ice creams as often as necessary.
Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “To read a poem in January is as lovely as to go for a walk in June.” January isn’t the time for flip flops. It often isn’t even the time for lots of evenings out after work, as everyone is worn out from the festivities of December. But to embrace winter in all its glory can mean cosy nights in, comfortable slippers, great literature in a favourite armchair, warming home-cooked food. Quiet. Poetry.
There’s real wisdom in embracing what is beautiful about right now, even if it isn’t what we think we want.
So just as we’ve learned to embrace what we like about the new season – apples, roast dinners, my favourite cardigans, sprinkling cinnamon on my coffee at home, reading Robert Frost – I’m wondering if I embrace the seasons of life in the more figurative sense as easily.
The current season of my life is transitioning back to work. It’s my baby becoming a toddler. It’s having two young children who both end up sleeping in the bed with me, and learning to get some sleep while sandwiched between them like sardines. It’s holding hands when crossing streets, listening to my son explain the latest development in Shark World on the iPad, practising his spelling words, and reading bedtime stories.
It’s also having to type this out one handed while my one-year-old nurses. Rushing to have time to shower most days. Back to back evenings of dinner and dishes and baths and homework and brushing teeth and bedtime stories before my husband and I finally collapse on the sofa with a sigh to enjoy an hour of television, tea and conversation before bed. This is a season where my dreams and ambitions will face the time crunch of having two people who rely on us.
But the mistake is expecting it to be anything other. Someday I’ll be waving my youngest off to university and my time will be much more my own to paint or sew my own clothes or write poetry. And then I’ll probably miss this time, the cuddles, the all-encompassing sense of being needed and wanted by my sons.
This isn’t to say I should give up on my dreams or sacrifice myself and my self care because time is so devoted to my sons. But it’s the difference between rolling with the punches, or trees bending with the wind, rather than pushing against what is.
Simply acknowledging the season of life in which I find myself makes it easier to celebrate what is. I can also see a way of meeting my needs, but in a way that embraces the season rather than trying to make it what it isn’t.
Thinking of seasons of life, here are some journal prompts, with a few example responses from me.
What is beautiful and delicious about your current season of life?
The affection and wholehearted love of young children. Being so important to them. The way my five-year-old shares with me about his day, things that might seem small and insignificant to some people but which I know are huge in his little world, such as what he chose to do at ‘choosing time’ at school or that he ran ‘really fast’ during recess. Feeling the weight of a baby on my hip supported by one arm while I stir the spaghetti sauce. Hearing CBeebies on in the background while I write. Baby laughter.
What is challenging or difficult about your current season of life?
No obvious clear time for me to do things I want to do for myself. How tired my son is after school, and trying to teach him how to calm down when he gets overtired and worked up. Feeling stretched too thin, everyone wants me and I’m struggling to do anything well. Losing my patience when the baby won’t settle down and nurse to sleep even though I know he’s tired, or my older son keeps ignoring me when I tell him to do/not do something. Having little time alone with my husband.
What does achieving your goals look like within this context of your season of life?
It means writing when I can rather than having a fixed time – like a Saturday morning, when the kids are happy to play for an hour in the lounge and I can type on the couch while watching them. It means frequent but short windows of time for myself – meditating in the loo for one minute rather than a twenty minute session, writing in my journal on the train or at a coffee shop during a break at work, reading on the train and before I fall asleep.
What will you miss about this season of life when you look back on it from the future?
I’ll miss my boys at these ages. I know I’ll love them at their future ages, but my one-year-old will transform into a little boy soon, and I’ll miss him as a baby. My little boy feels like a different person from the pre-linguistic baby I used to cuddle with, and I am sure I’ll miss him as a little five-year-old as he gets older.