It’s back to school this week in England and for the first time in nearly 18 years, I have not had to do any sort of stationery or uniform shopping for my children. I have watched Facebook light up with the pictures of my friends’ children on their first-day-back photos (or as some wag dubbed it, “National Stand In Front Of A Door Day”) and my teacher friends posting status updates about how they can’t sleep etc, and it has brought about very mixed feelings for me.
This time of the year always represents a kind of new beginning for me – always has done. September for me means new school year, new pens, new notebooks, new shoes, new winter coat, new start, renewed goal-setting. In some ways, September is more of a New Year than, well, New Year really. For me it’s the chance to start over, make new promises to myself, wipe that slate clean and get on with things with a new sense of intention and enthusiasm.
As well as having this feeling because of my children and their school careers, recently I have experienced it for myself in the shape of my OU degree, where the modules begin again each September.
But this year is different. Emma has long since left university, my OU career is over, and Ethan is in his last year at college and he is studying music, so no need for the quick trip to W H Smith’s this year with him! It kind of makes me sad that it’s over, but there’s more to it than that and it goes a bit deeper.
This year, I feel that my own sense of purpose is being tested. As you may know, I don’t have a job and at my age and with my health record it’s unlikely I’m going to be able to just walk into one anytime in the near future. I no longer have any studies to look forward to, and my children don’t need me to mother them the same now as they did when they were at school. Emma is a fantastic, independent young woman now who, though she is still my little girl, she is a person in her own right. Ethan is almost a man now and has very firm ideas on what he wants to achieve from life, and neither of them need me to the extent they did before.
I do have hopes of my own, but a lot of that depends on a long and complex process within the church. For this week, this month, even the rest of this year, I have nothing to do and nothing to feel purposeful about. And it’s a scary feeling.
I wish I was one of those people who look at emptiness as an opportunity rather than a threat, or one of those who look at having no responsibilities as a life of ease rather than a life of boredom, but I’m not. Of course, there are day to day things that I’m involved with and that I enjoy doing but being fulfilled like that is not quite the same thing as having a sense of purpose. I suppose it’s a bit like the old “empty nest” syndrome of yesteryear, and it puts me in mind of Ria in Butterflies. Of course I’m not anything like her in lots of ways, but that sense of “what about me?” rings true with me at the minute.
Perhaps I’m impatient, and perhaps I’m showing a lack of faith by feeling that way because I know that the story is an ongoing one, and God hasn’t finished with me yet. But what do I do in the meantime?
I have got a couple of writing projects on the go, but with no deadlines they are just waffly notes and incoherent storylines at the minute. I have got a couple of pieces of music that I want to arrange, but same thing, with no deadlines there is no need to get worked up about them just yet. I can’t settle to crochet very much (my eyes need testing and I don’t have a pair of glasses that I can see the stitches properly with unless I hold it right under my nose at book-reading length, and besides, it’s too hot still to be crocheting blankets or hats!) and besides which, I don’t have any orders outstanding so, yup, you guessed it, with no deadlines to hit there is no urgency in getting a project planned and prepared.
And there you have it. This September is most definitely a “new” time for me – an emptiness that I have only kind of experienced once before. This time however, I do have a couple of things that are keeping me going more than they did last time and I thank God that I do or else I wouldn’t know how to cope at all.
I’m not used to having my Septembers being so blank and empty, and I wonder what is going to come along and fill it all in the coming weeks. I hope and pray that when something does come along it will shake me out of this dip I’m in just now.
Anyone else feel this way when their kids grow up? I’d love to hear your take on it if you have experienced it or know someone else who is going through it. Drop me a line below and share your story with me.