Tuesday, February 14, 2012

when all your kids go to school

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


Anonymous said...

Loved this Jean.

Fiona McLean said...

Hey, Jean - this sums up where I am at at the moment too! I am also trying to "wait, trust, depend" and see what God has in store for me this year (and beyond). And, in the meantime, I'm trying not to succumb to false guilt that I should be in paid work or something else structured and formal. God is giving me lots of opportunities to serve in different ways right at the moment!
Love, Fiona

Gordon Cheng said...

Surely time for a little cry, followed by a prayer of thanks.

Kath said...

I like that. Wait, trust, depend. Enjoy this time :)

Catriona said...

Such a helpful post. I still have 3.5 years to go before I'm at this stage but I do think about it, mostly longingly but occasionally a bit fearfully; who will I be without small people in tow, how will it change the way I operate, will I be expected to up my output to justify still being at home - aarrggh!! I have heard the "Give yourself a year" advice before and it sounds pretty sensible.

Meredith said...

Thanks for sharing this moment with us. Just beautiful. The vagueness will finds its own structure. For now, read lots of books. And enjoy the fact that on the odd day when you don't feel completely well, that you can go back to bed when the children are all safely delivered to school for the first time in thirteen years.

Loved Gordon Cheng's comment too. Perfect.

Anonymous said...

I have been blessed with 3 children, born within 3 years.
It is very liberating to read that someone else feels that the infant years are tiring and yet you still often feel like you achieve so little - pushing treacle uphill.
My youngest will head to nursery in September and so it is great to be given a prompt that a new season lies ahead.
I think that I will get a box and start putting books to read and notes to myself of things to do once the last little head bobs round the classroom door and into a new adventure.

Tom Cannon said...

Good stuff Jean. Enjoy the season you're in. We just sent our youngest off to uni. Talk about greif and relief...

Jean said...

Oh - my - goodness! It's Tom Cannon!! Lovely to hear from you and I hope your new season brings great blessing to all of you.

Sarie King said...

I love the way you write, Jean..so beautiful. May it be a blessed year...God's gift, as each year is. Ironically, your post also made me long again for children...blame it on your great writing :)

Rachach said...

I just read this post Jean. My youngest went to school last year. Your post beautifully puts things that I (even as an extravert!) was feeling.
And amazing how God has planned things, for you to be available to help your husband and children, especially at this time (in 2015).
God bless, Jean xx