Life comes in seasons. Not the nature part of winter, summer etc. Seasons..stages...ages....call it what you will. I like to think of it as seasons. It sounds prettier than it can be at times.
Childhood - full engaged, busy, learning, having fun, developing individual talents, gifts, and inclinations. You don't do a great deal of thinking because you are still a kid. Thinking about tomorrow is definitely not a consideration. That is for grown-ups. Childhood is, or should be, care free.
Young adulthood - fixing the world, studying, embarking on careers, relationships and marriage. This is the part where you KNOW you know more than old people. (Old being older than 30.) And you are BETTER than the old people. The world is your oyster.
Marriage and parenthood - or nowadays, settled partnerships and possibly children added to the mix. In my case, marriage and parenthood. Totally involved with raising tiny helpless babies to thinking, responsible, capable adults. In one piece. You. And them as well. Not a great deal of time for thinking and pondering things, because you are multitasking on a formidable level.
Empty nest - hallelujah, they all made it through school and head off to university or other things like work or global trots. In one piece. And you sit back wipe the brow and congratulate yourself for making it through the last 2 decades. In one piece. Now it is time to pat oneself on the back and relax. Or.......
I am pausing at this point.
I have a number of friends who , like me, have children who have finished their schooling and are off now, either at uni, or working away from home, some married, and all independent. This is a time when both parents are usually working, and their own social life is busy with dinner parties, and weekends away with friends, theatre, gym, church, doing courses for fun, movies, and all the other social events you can think of. The children pop home now and then, and you watch benevolently, and listen as they regale you with stories of their adventures.
This is the first time, usually, when parents can indulge in hobbies or interests without feeling guilt. Time to make choices based on just 2 people, not the whole horde. It is a really weird feeling - not having to taxi kids any more, or being free to eat what you like, watch what you want to watch and do what you want to do. A whole life re-adjustment. It can also be a lonely time. For those of you with younger kids, do not write off the "empty nest syndrome". It doesn't happen at a set time, and can occur at any time once the children depart. But I suspect everyone goes through it to some extent or other.
For me, this came a little later. Possibly because I have been slightly distracted by the multitude of little blips I have had to deal with in recent years. For me, the entirely different change in life became far more apparent when I stopped and looked around. Last week in fact. And it actually has little to do with the empty nest.
The next stage is the one where the social grouping you have become used to after your children leave home starts constricting. Changing. Heading in different directions. Evolving into what I suspect is the pattern which will continue for the rest of our lives. This is where I am now.
This is the time when everyone starts focusing on a whole new range of things, not least their own health issues, parents aging, and children scattered around the world. Retirement. Trying to get the mortgages paid to be able to help children buy homes. Weddings, funerals, graduations, grandchildren, helping with childcare...... a whole new range of activities, responsibilities and needs. And it is all complicated by the fact that our families no longer all live within walking distance of each other. A birthday party means, possibly, a few days trip away. A sick child, ditto.
Gone are the days of having everyone close, chatting to mums outside school, sharing laughter as you make new friends, watching children for each other, racing about the place. THIS place. Now you have to race around the world instead. We all turn inward, to the needs of our own families. They come first. Brothers and sisters all over the world. The question is no longer "Where should we go for our holiday?" but "Who do we need to go and see?" "Where am I needed next?" "When last did I see......?" And, if you are like me, "How can I be in 3 places at the same time?"
Who will be home for Mother's day? Easter? Christmas? Birthdays? Where will I be for each of the above? How long will I be away? When do I get back? And the juggling continues, just on a far grander scale than when they were little. And because of the absences, the dynamics of our local friendships change too. Inevitably.
I don't chat to friends as often or for as long on the phone any more. We are all distracted by the shoots of our lives heading off in strange uncharted directions. I don't see my friends anywhere near as often either. For similar reasons. It is not just me, you see - we are all going through the same metamorphosis. Is this good? Change is always difficult and always brings with it painful moments. Growing pains. But life does not stand still and we were born to constantly change. At the moment, my close friends and I are in the process of breaking out of the chrysalis. The wings will unfurl sometime soon, and we will all adjust to a different phase of our lives. Season.
A different season.
The empty nest was a doddle in retrospect. It is the bit that comes next which is proving to be more of a challenge.