Thoughts on Seasons and Hurdles

A few weeks ago, unceremoniously and without even knowing it, I washed my last cloth diaper. Of course I knew we were in the midst of potty training and naturally I noticed we were using fewer and fewer diapers. But on that day when I washed the last one, I didn’t know it was the last. Packing, changing, rinsing, washing, drying and folding those diapers was a part of our daily routine for well over 5 years, since the day we brought our first baby home from the hospital. A season of life ended, right before our very eyes, and we barely noticed.

But isn’t that the way seasons go? There aren’t any boundary markers or borders. Last summer we were up in the mountains, and we stood on a border line with one foot in Sweden and one foot in Norway. If you’re driving down that same road and you pay attention to the signs, you know the moment you leave Sweden and enter Norway. But seasons are much less clear. Sure there are signs, but certainly no clear boundaries. This morning I walked past a cluster of crocuses, and I stopped to admire their bold beautiful color contrasting with everything around them still dormant and looking lifeless. But I only stopped for a minute, since the cold wind was pelting my face with the falling snow and I was anxious to get back inside. It’s impossible to explain this overlap to the kids when they wake up to a fresh snowfall. Isn’t it supposed to be spring now? Or have they somehow missed summer altogether and now here is winter starting over again? How will we know when it’s really spring, or when the summer starts? I give vague answers, because that’s all I have to offer.

norwegian border

Staffan and Peter with some of their confirmation camp friends, posing on the border between Sweden and Norway in August 2014.

Seasons phase into one another so gradually that often we don’t realize they’ve changed until we’re in the middle of a new one. So it is with the seasons of the year and so it seems to be with seasons of life. This time of year, high school seniors are preparing for graduation and marking off all of their “lasts”. There will be a last lunch in the cafeteria, a last band or sport practice, a last final exam. A graduation ceremony will put a clear boundary on this season. But once we leave that world of school, it’s all a bit fuzzy. Seasons of adult life are somewhat boundary-less, and this experience of raising children might just be the fuzziest.

It’s so intense in both pace and emotion that often we’re completely absorbed by the new phase without having a chance to realize we’ve left the old one behind us. When we do realize it, it can be with that brief relief of having cleared a hurdle before shifting our focus to the next hurdle on the horizon. I’ve never seen a sad or nostalgic Facebook status from new parents the first time their baby sleeps through the night. I don’t miss middle of the night feedings either, but it was an important season of bonding with my baby, of learning the sacrifices of parenthood, of spouses learning a new interdependence. I can’t say that I’ll miss changing diapers either, though most of the time I didn’t really mind it. I feel a hint of nostalgia for the songs and rhymes on the changing table, tummy tickles and little giggles, kissing the soles of little feet. Today if I try to kiss a foot I’m likely to get accidentally kicked in the face by an active little boy who’s always on the go. But for me it’s not about getting weepy about my babies growing up and it’s not about romanticizing the seasons we’ve been through by selectively forgetting all the hardest parts. It’s about noticing. Stopping. Pausing. Acknowledging. And slowing down a little to allow the space to do that.

This business of raising kids feels so much like a race sometimes, and it’s some bizarre hybrid with the pace of the 100m hurdles but the distance of a marathon. It’s frenetic and there are jobs and school conferences and soccer practices and dance recitals and runny noses and stomach viruses and never-ending laundry and they want to eat dinner EVERY SINGLE DAY… I look around and we’re all sweating and cursing under our breath and pushing ourselves over one more hurdle, and then one more. And the thought strikes me: why are we running? Is there a prize for finishing first? Do I have to run just because the mom in the lane next to me is running?

run

See? It’s not pretty when I run. Does it look like I’m having fun?

What if we could slow the race down? What if we appreciated each obstacle after crossing it? What if we reflected on what it taught us and how we’ve grown through it? What if we have time to encourage the parents around us, give someone else a hand along their path, help someone up who has stumbled, maybe even accept some help ourselves? Wouldn’t our lives be richer? Do we even know what we’re missing when we’re running this fast? Part of simplifying life, for me, is taking a few things out of the equation when we can, but mostly just slowing the whole race down. We will choose to walk. To stop and appreciate some flowers, even when they’re crocuses in the middle of a snowstorm.

We still have a lot of “lasts” ahead of us as our kids grow up. Most of the time, we probably won’t know it’s the last until after the fact. Perhaps there’s a grace in that. But I hope that as we look back we can say that we lived it. That we experienced it, in the moment. All of it. The joyful stuff, the hard stuff, the milestones and the everyday. That we weren’t striving so hard after the next thing that we lacked the energy to appreciate the steps in between. We’re going to walk for a bit and catch our breath. Who’s with us?

finish together

So much better when we cross the finish line together!
Related note: How was this 2 years ago already?!

Emelie Victorious

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