It’s no secret to anyone that I love autumn. And one of the things I love about it is its element of surprise. When the browns of November have sufficiently damped our spirits, we begin to yearn for snow; something to make the barren trees glisten with light; something to ring in the holiday cheer. Then far before the end of a a long winter, we feel that we can wait no longer to open our windows to the sunshine and for May’s flowers to once again decorate the earth. After enjoying spring’s newness for just a short time, we find ourselves marking days off the calendar (especially those of us involved with school in any way) in a race for the completely unfettered days of summer.
But fall…it always seems to sneak up on us. Maybe it’s because we all secretly long for summer to never end, and maybe the end of summer is so busy that we don’t get the chance to wait for fall, but it’s always the same, year after year. We wake up one morning and it’s there it is. It’s chilly. It’s getting darker in the mornings. And we find ourselves suddenly down in the basement frantically digging through clothes in search of mittens, or a coat just a bit heavier than the sweatshirts we have been content with in the summer months.
(As always, it brings tears to my eyes as I take out clothes for the little one and find myself reliving all the memories of the older one when she wore them… wondering at how far the older one has come from where she was then. How did she get so big? And how did the little one get big enough to wear these clothes that her sister wore when she was just a tiny babe?)
As I move into this season, I find myself thinking a lot about fall three years ago. I was nearing the end of my pregnancy with Ophelia and not working, Emerson wasn’t in school, and we had just returned from the hot, dry climate of Tuscany to the crisp air of October in New England. For one of the few times in my life, time was spread out before me – nothing was pressing. My only tasks at hand were to prepare a space in our lives for this new life growing inside me, and to spend as much time as possible enjoying this special time with Emerson before the baby was born. It was a rare time – one in which I was able to live slowly and to consciously enjoy each moment I was given without feeling the rush into the future or wish into the past. I lived in the now. And the now was wonderful.
And, the now had a soundtrack. We had just started Music Together with a lovely new teacher in a great space. After eight previous sessions, the Bongos Collection was the only CD I hadn’t heard, and – of course – it turned out to be the best…by far. I remember driving to the park after the class with no place special to be, watching the multicolored leaves enliven the air around us, listening to the songs come through the radio, thinking this is bliss.
But bliss has to be short-lived doesn’t it? Without the lows there can be no highs….
Not that I look back at the time after that glorious fall as a low point in my life – not by any stretch of the imagination – but in all those days of a stay-at-home three-year-old adjusting to a new, not so easy baby sister in the middle of winter, of going back to work, of dealing with the financial woes of buying a new home, of spending my days endlessly driving Emerson to and from school, I looked to the Bongos as my saving grace. When I hear those wonderful notes again, I will be in the same space with Ophelia that I was with Emerson. That stillness. That calm. That bliss.
And now here we are. Three years later. Bongos on the radio again, Ophelia dancing in that same beautiful space her sister was, in the same parent-toddler program her sister and I were in together, even wearing the same clothes her sister wore back then.
But of course, everything feels so different.
We have a new teacher for the parent-toddler class, and the first and second-graders – who used to be singing and stomping upstairs in the mornings as we played in the classroom downstairs – have joined the rest of the elementary school at the main campus. Even more disheartening, the building and play-yard that were an integral part of Emerson’s earliest days at school are up for sale. I can’t help but feel – as I move around the space now with Ophelia – that we are inhabiting a place that has been deserted; where only memories of liveliness remain.
It’s not just the school. It’s everything. Swimming lessons, trips to the park, story hour, time at home…these are all things I shared with Emerson as well, but somehow this time around things seem distorted. The Bongos are playing in the background, but the notes don’t sound the same. I’ve heard them too many times before…
But wait a minute…what is that other noise coming from the backseat? The one that I don’t recognize?
It’s my little one. And she’s singing.
And at this moment, I take a break from rummaging around in the basement of my memories, opening bins and unfolding… Instead I look in the rearview mirror and see not Emerson, not three years ago, but Ophelia, today. Yes, she is wearing the same clothes…but they fit her differently. She wears them differently, and she chooses combinations that the older one would have never chosen. She likes best the clothes the older one scarcely even put on, and somehow, when it is time to put the clothes away again – or give them away rather, this time for good- I know that they will have gained so much meaning that the original meaning will have been painted over, and I smile to think that some other mother or child will paint it over with meaning again, and again.
These reappearing signposts in our life; these points in which we seek meaning: seasons, holidays, birthdays, semesters, hand-me-down clothes, CDs, etc… are all here to weave a thread through time. They are here to connect us to our past; to remind us who we were, who we are, and who we want to be. But although it is reassuring to look at these signposts for a short time, it is necessary, also, to let them pass. It is more important to keep our eyes not on where we have been, but on where we are headed.
And this, is really what I love the most about fall. It is the time when everything past – good or evil, happy or sad – must die. Trees lose their leaves, plants turn brown, the last of the earth’s harvest comes to fruition, then ends. There is a briskness in the air that prevents memories from sticking to us like they do in the humidity of summer. It tells us here is something new. This is the direction your life is going. It’s fresh. It’s spacious. It’s wonderful.
(And in the spirit of new… I am starting a new blog, which will chronicle my journey towards [hopefully!] becoming a Waldorf teacher)