I've been writing and re-writing this post in my head. How do you sum up the end of one season of life and the beginning of a new one? The answer is: you don't. But here are a few thoughts that occur to me.
Well, I've finally done it. Thirteen years of parenting, and my youngest is in school. I can't quite believe it. I catch my breath, and the world spins by.
There's a mixture of grief and relief. Grief that my littlest boy will no longer be around, asking me to play. Grief for those small interruptions in my day when I downed tools and sat down for a jigsaw, a book, a game - or just a cuddle. I see young mothers pass by, holding their toddlers by the hand, and my own hands felt empty.
But I won't deny that I also feel relief. Relief that - finally! - there is a stretch of time in my day when I can just be. Be by my blessed self. Like all introverts, time alone is - well, how can I put it? It's a bench where you catch your breath on an uphill hike. It's a clearing in the forest where you lie back and disappear into the sky. It's the plunge of hot skin into an icy stream. (Sorry about the purple prose, but that's how I feel about time by myself. Purplish.) Without solitude, I grow small and shrunken. I gasp for breath. I prickle.
There are benefits for the kids, too. When they get home from school - wonder of wonders! - I actually feel like spending time with them. Instead of fighting the urge to escape to the computer, I sit on the couch with my daughter and we chat like civilized grown-ups. I make milk-shakes with energy instead of reluctance. I ask my sons if they want to play a game, and they're the ones that refuse me. Not sure how I'd do home-schooling!
As for those thirteen years with young children at home, I've realised one thing: they were really tough! If you're in the middle of them, here's my advice: don't be surprised or dismayed if you're exhausted and get nothing done. I got some medical tests a year ago to work out why I was so tired. They came back with every box ticked: yes, I was in perfect health. I was just plain tired. With every year that passed, every child that was born, I got tireder and tireder. I got less and less done. That's just the way it is during that season.
(But oh, the joys! The naked new babies with their soft, wrinkled skin and that indefinable new-baby smell. The ridiculous pigtails askew on my toddler daughter's head. The tender curve of a boy's head under his newly-cut hair. The books - endless books! - that we read together. The games that we played, and the tumbling wrestling cuddles.)
This new season isn't all blessed solitude and after-school reunions. There's a vagueness to my days that disturbs me. You see, I've decided not to take on huge new work or ministry responsibilities - not yet. I've been advised by many friends to treat this as a year of recovery and adjustment: a year of grace. I want to feel my way into the shape of my days before I take on new tasks.
I like control. I like structure. I grow tired of the question, "What are you going to do now the kids are all at school?" It's not easy for me to sit lightly to order and organisation and regular commitments. But I think this is where God wants me this year, and perhaps for many years: being present for my husband and growing children, making a home, giving time to relationships outside the home (Titus 2:3-5, 1 Timothy 5:9-10). If life is vague and unstructured - if, at times, I feel like a waste of space, or like I'm lost in space - well, God knows and determines my path. I'm learning to put my hand in his and feel for each step of the way.
The days slowly fill. I invest in relationships with neighbours and mums at school. I get to know younger women at church. I look around the house, and all the jobs I didn't do during the last thirteen years vie for my attention. I read the books I haven't had time for. I write. I'm grateful for space to do these things. I'm sure they will gradually coalesce into some kind of routine.
So what will I be doing this year? I wrote down three words in my journal the other day: "Wait. Trust. Depend." That seems like a good place to start.
image is by from flickr