Something they don’t tell you before you become a parent: your children are your best teachers. I remember a London park on a hot sunny day and me boiling with frustration over our toddler who simply would not appreciate the wonderful outing we had planned for her. We had all come out together, we had found swings and slides, there were plans for ice cream later and here was this tiny person, so beautiful on a good day, turning redder than the strawberries on her cute little sun hat and yelling with rage.
I was close to stamping my feet and storming out of the park myself when I remembered the tantrum I had had at breakfast the day before and waves of guilt flooded me at the memory of my little girls’ bewildered faces. Chastened, I made another effort to work out what was going on with our miniature Fury. As I flopped down on the grass beside her, I suddenly saw the park from her point of view. Masses of feet and legs hurrying around, the heat oppressive, the noise unintelligible to a two-year-old. We scooped her up and went home.
Later that afternoon, our bundle of rage was transformed into an angel of light, splashing quietly in the paddling pool in the garden, radiating peace and contentment. Watching her I understood more of my own anger the day before, how it had stemmed from lack of sleep and from refusing to acknowledge that introverts like myself get excessively grumpy when they ignore their need to be alone. Like my daughter I had exploded out of simply being unable to cope with what was being demanded of me.
That toddler is nearly twenty now and we had some tears the other week, about facing new challenges, about the difficulty of moving away from the familiar. I kept hugging her, telling her it was the right thing to do, that life goes in seasons, that you can’t stand still or you stagnate and become boring. When we left her at university just over a week ago she was beaming and I was full of a good kind of proud, like when her elder sister returned from Madagascar, like when the team you have been cheering through thick and thin suddenly makes it to a cup final.
Then – bam! After a couple of really good years I am suddenly back with the sleepless nights, the exhaustion, the feeling that everything is too, too much to cope with. I thought I was through with this, that I had learned to manage it but I start to feel panicky at the prospect of more isolation, more days, hours, weeks lost to the numb inactivity that is depression.
I don’t know what makes me connect with the memory of my tearful teenager but as soon as I do I understand: she reflects me back to myself just as she did that day in the park, just as all three of our young ones do over and over again. It isn’t just they who are moving into new seasons, shaking off the familiar, called to embrace the new. It is me as well and I am as scared and reluctant as any teenager; probably more so because somehow this year autumn is reminding me more than usual that winter is not far behind.
Life goes in seasons, you can’t stand still … I am repeating my own advice over and over and drawing strength from the beaming smiles of that young woman in her first university flat.