New Year’s Thoughts for Tired Grown Ups
It’s not unusual for me to feel I have no thoughts about the future. Part of a depressive tendency I think. But when New Year’s Eve rolled round this year I was shocked out of the mode I had been in – staggering towards the end of the year – by the realisation that it was about to start all over again. I felt a pressing need to give some consideration to what was about to unfold, and to find within myself some orientation towards it, while also knowing that excitement and desire were not going to be my guides. But I also think this pressing need is amplified by the fact of having children. Their lives will go on whether or not I know what to do with my own, and if I don’t stop to try to give some space to thought, I will simply be pulled along by that force.
But how to start?
It has become common practice to use certain methods of processing where we find ourselves at the beginning of a new year. It makes sense that we would look back to review what has been, and use that to refresh our sense of what we would hope for from a new beginning. But I guess this approach relies on a formula of pluses and minuses, and this isn’t quite what I’m looking for. It also requires a certain amount of energy to go through and make the list.
One other thing that has been on the horizon of my attention for a number of months is that we’re in the process of leaving the baby years behind. Our youngest will be two this January. So two years ago now we were on the threshold of a huge new change as a family, which we were to meet in the middle of the ongoing pandemic. The changes of the past few years have been creative ones: making space for the new, and finding ways to meet the often conflicting needs that have been thrown up as a result. But I can feel that things are just starting now to settle into a new stage. It makes me wonder: are we just into maintenance now? What is there left to create?
Another thing that I have started to recognise since becoming a mother is a frequent awareness that my very existence might be succumbing to cliché, while also knowing that there is no way out of inhabiting a form of life which in itself is often viewed through that lens. “All mums go mad when they have children,” I remember my husband’s best friend saying. Hearing this, I felt on some level reassured that he got it, that it was not surprising to him. But it is also odd to fall into this groove where your experience is unremarkable, because so common.
Within the stereotype, there are various next steps one might take to fulfil that creative urge. The obvious – have another baby, or almost the opposite – pursue a career move. But I want to acknowledge two things: firstly, if I am needed less, I want to understand in what way that need has changed and where to go next with it. And I want to try to discover from within the life I have now the secrets that it has to share, rather than trying to escape too soon to another one.
This is where I come back to the tiredness. It’s not a case now of just making it to the point where the baby can walk, or feed themselves, or whatever it is that seems like it will make things that bit simpler. We are in this for the long haul. We are just at the beginning of whatever that means.
As I think about where we have been, I wonder if there are two kinds of things that I will be glad of and might look for as we move through this new year. Two things which similarly give pause: milestones, and resting places. I’ll take the milestones first.
I’m not thinking here of the kind that you can look up in a chart or a list. I’m not thinking of those which come as an expected part of the process. Rather, I’m thinking of those which we create as we go, which become privately and personally meaningful, which give cause for quiet celebration.
In the past month or so my husband and I have noticed ourselves arriving at one of these with some surprise. Essentially we’ve managed to flip our early evening routine so that instead of all four of us each eating a meal in staggered succession we have begun to sit down together daily at the same time and share the same meal. Although I know you’re supposed to do family meals from age one, I honestly think it has taken us about two and a half years to get to this point. Initially, there was what I remember as a long phase of screaming when we tried to get daughter 1 to eat anything at all for tea/dinner – even sitting down in the chair has often been hard to achieve. Then there was a weaning baby who needed to be introduced to new foods which others in the family probably wouldn’t eat, and who would be voraciously hungry before anyone else was ready. Finally, the general state of play at this point in the day would mean my husband and I would have to take turns to look after or hold one or both of the girls while the other quickly ate. And because the bedtime routine has always taken hours to get through, it would have been pointless to wait, as I know some couples do, to eat together when the kids had finally gone to bed.
But the main thing is it has brought me such pleasure, quite deep pleasure really, to be able to sit now with my family around the table. It doesn’t matter that the youngest is usually reaching over to my plate, clambering over to sit on my knee, and will leave behind a scene of devastation when we go upstairs. I’m not bothered by having to pick out every last bit of vegetable that the eldest manages to spot, in order that she at least eats something. I’m simply happy that for a moment, here we are, together.
So this is a milestone, and perhaps it is only one stage in the evolution of our mealtimes which we will end up going through as a family. For now, I am marking it for all its worth.
If it takes time though to arrive at a milestone, I know I’ll also be needing some resting places to stop at along the way. I’ve been thinking about what these look like and what makes them restful. This mainly involves getting to a space where the pressures which normally present themselves in visible ways all around me are for a time held out of sight. It’s a funny thing to think of but at the moment the house is in every sense of the word my workspace, and it is where my work can often mount up. Getting out of it is not just a nice thing to try and do – it’s often a very necessary means of relief.
At the same time, I think I tend to feel most rested not by going to a particular place, but by finding that place in the presence of another person. As Kahlil Gibran writes in his letter to Mary Haskell:
Each and every one of us, dear Mary, must have a resting place somewhere. The resting place of my soul is a beautiful grove where my knowledge of you lives.
It is almost like a memory of something that you still have.