It’s fall. You can’t see the changing of seasons much in Miami, where I live, but you can feel them. Even if the weather didn’t get ever so slightly cooler and the breeze ever so slightly stronger this time of year, I would still be able to pinpoint the start of autumn because of how it affects my mood. At the start of fall, at the end of September, I am in the best mood. I can literally smell the changes in the air and taste it in my pumpkin flavored lattes. I take delight in switching from lemonade to apple cider and pool floats to fit pits. Then, like clockwork, the fun comes to a screeching halt the minute the month of November hits. I find myself feeling more fragile. More emotional. More sentimental. My heart literally aches each year at this time. I always attributed this underlying heartache tied to November with the fact that my mom passed away in the month of November, and in more recent years we had to put our precious dog, Albert, down in the month of November. But it’s more than that this year. There is this nagging extra layer to the heaviness inside me as sweet memories flood in of my two children when they were younger. Nostalgia that used to overwhelm me with flashbacks from my childhood has now switched to nostalgia of my own children’s earlier years. Remembering what once was and is no longer.
My firstborn, Conner, was born mid-September and Hudson was born two years later in early-October (fall babies) and lately my heart weights heavy with thoughts of those first few years of their lives. The longer days where we would take even longer stroller rides in our old neighborhood. The visits to local pumpkin patches in matching plaid outfits. The wonder that filled their eyes when they would scoop the pumpkin seeds out of the pumpkins so that daddy could carve them into jack-o-lanterns with their “help”. The thrill of trick or treating in whatever endearing non-scary little costumes I picked out for them. Memories of me pulling my boys from house to house in their Radio Flyer wagon before it would get too dark out. Before the days of excessive homework and non-stop sports schedules. Back when their only weekend plans were whatever Joe and I wanted them to be. Back when our playroom was a wreck, covered in a thick blanket of Calico Critters, Magna-Tiles and Hatchimals. Back when the house was totally kid-proof and every nice piece of furniture was draped in Spiderman blankets in case of spills—and there were always spills!
I remember thinking in the earlier years: Oh, my g-d, will these kids ever sleep-in to a normal hour? Will they ever eat something other than pasta? Will they ever take a shower instead of a bath? Will they ever stop calling out for me every two seconds? Will they ever wipe their own tush, brush their own teeth, read their own bedtime story to themselves…
I blink… and we are there, at that finish line. The boys are pretty much self-sufficient and our parenting is mostly on cruise control (at least for the time being). The house is cleaner and more tidy than ever. The playroom is more like a lounge for hanging out and playing NBA 2K. The floors are spotless. And yet there is this sadness that comes with it. I tell myself; this is good. They are growing. They are maturing. This is supposed to take place. This is what we always wanted. This is a blessing. But my heart tells another story.
Being a parent isn’t for the faint of heart. No one ever told me this, but I caught on to this truth the day my newborn outgrew his adorable newborn onesies and moved up to the 1–3-month size. I know that sounds absurd, but it brought me great sadness every time I had to make a little bag of giveaway clothes because they just grew so freakin fast. From infancy, to toddlerhood, to elementary school years–the time just seems to pass by faster and faster. One day your singing Baby Shark together and the next you’re having to explain how babies are made. Everyone says “the days are long and the years are short” and now I actually get it. I look back at photos of my boys and marvel at how their little faces have morphed drastically over the years, changing shape and even moving from looking more like one parent to the other. I went for a walk with my now nine-year-old about a month ago and while holding his hand and talking about basketball he looked up at me and asked, ever so sweetly: “mommy, would it be okay if I stop calling you mommy and to start calling you mom instead?” I said “you can all me anything you want honey, just don’t ever call me Susie.” And then I squeezed his hand a little tighter and I might have shed a tear or two underneath my sunglasses.
In many ways autumn can be viewed a depressing time of year. A time of gloom, where everything dies and goes away or changes from one thing to another…like the flipping of a light switch. I now know that isn’t the case. Fall is arguably the most beautiful of seasons, not just visually but emotionally. I know now that great changes rarely happen at the speed of flipping a switch—they are gradual and often go unnoticed in the process. Autumn for me is now about making a conscious effort to slow things down a bit and noticing the little things—the little changes, both in nature and within ourselves. When you stop to see the little changes as they are slowly turning, you’ll gain a new appreciation for the process, the “in-between time”. Fall reminds us that we are all a part of a great journey, a great transformation. When a tree loses its leaves each year, we know now that new ones are coming. The shedding of leaves isn’t a death at all, it’s the start of a rebirth.
One gift I have now, that I didn’t have as a new parent, is perspective. I know now that “this too shall pass”. Every tough age and stage with childhood and parenthood will eventually shift and change. Literally nothing lasts forever— as autumn so stunningly reminds us each year. The first year of parenting really is a crash course because the minute you think you have it all figured out your baby will test you yet again. I know now that all the hard days, restless nights, tough decisions and hard stances we take over the years as parents will pay off over time. I know now that the good times are not to be downplayed or taken for granted, but rather highlighted and savored for as long as possible. I’m currently in the thick of it—standing in my own huge pile of autumn leaves and jumping up and down in them with glee. I’m taking notice of all their brilliant hues before their colors begin to fade. I am living in the days that most parents look back on with the fondest of memories–this limbo or “in-between time” where my children are no longer babies but not yet adolescence. Now that I recognize its goodness it’s up to me to make it count and to be fully present for it before it passes me by.
At this moment the struggles are minimal and the problems are manageable. For the first time in nine years, I have caught myself referring to parenting my children as being “easy”. Yes, right now (temporarily I’m sure) it’s “easy” as we are wedged in-between the period of tantrums and sleep deprivation and the years to come of teens with an attitude and a life of their own. I am savoring being able to still hold their hands any time I want to. Still singing them to sleep each night upon their request. Still accompanying them to birthday parties. Still being able to help them with homework that I actually understand. Still being the loudest mom cheering for them at their sporting events, without totally humiliating them (although that’s coming soon, I feel). Still being able to crack jokes that they find funny. Still being the only girl who has their whole heart. I’ll take it! All the hugs and kisses. All the hand squeezes. All the adorable words that they still mispronounce like “ska-betty” for spaghetti or “yest” for “just”. I love that they still sit on my lap, ride on my back and that they will still pick flowers from our backyard and hand them to me as if they were store-bought. I am eating it all up right now; knowing in time and faster than a blink this too will pass. These leaves will fall off. Just like all the things we used to do and thought at the time would never end—like the Music Together soundtrack playing on repeat in our car, “circle to the left old brass wagon”, or our refrigerator doors packed with their finger paintings and spin art, or spending every Saturday with Super Soccer Stars where the kids would roll around in dirt and play with sticks more than actually kick the ball into the net. It was fun and exhausting and we looked forward to it and we dreaded it and we enjoyed it and complained about it. All these little routines and shared moments pass by like the falling of autumn leaves one by one and the branches fill back up with new leaves of new activities and routines and phases and experiences, and round and round we go.
As a parent it is a blessing to see your children growing and thriving, changing and blooming, with each season AND it’s also totally normal for it to sting. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. It is okay to be BOTH happy and sad. It is okay to be in a state of mourning what once was and to also love exactly where you currently are. It’s okay to feel the underlying sadness for loss of all kinds. It is also okay to have fun and make it a point to do more of the things that bring you joy when you’re going through a heart-heavy month or period of time. I know now that fall isn’t only about death and loss, it is also about movement, growth and transitioning to something even greater. This fall I am working on being more intentional with my time. I am working on being more in the present moment with my family. I am working on balancing beautiful memories of the past with hopefulness for the new leaves that are yet to come. I am working on slowing things down in this fast-pace life as much as I can. I am taking notice of all the changes as they occur and I am filling my mind with thoughts of gratitude more than ever before.