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The One With The September Survival

September is here folks. In all its back-to-school, lunch-packing, uniform-folding, overdraft-offending glory - it is here.

I have mixed feelings about September, as you might remember from last year's blog post, The One With The September Blues. On the one hand I'm delighted my little tearaways get to indulge in something resembling a routine after the wilderness of the summer, that they can settle their attentions on their mates instead of my eternal deficiencies as a mum, and that weekends, once again, become warm and cosy and Netflix-drenched.

Still all talking to each other (just) after a long summer

On the other hand, I am sometimes a bit lost. I enjoy the time to myself, the fresh opportunities to arrange my work hours during the actual day and the cups of tea in a quiet, quiet house. But there's something physically harsh about September. A loss of some kind. An erosion of self that I feel in my bones.

And all the focus is on the kids, isn't it? Rightly so when you consider what they're going through. New classes, new schools, new timetables and new challenges. We're asked, 'how are they getting on?', 'have they settled in?', 'are they enjoying it?' And all of our efforts are focused on getting them through this transitional time, not considering that we might be actual humans with some feelings about this shit too.

For instance, in our family, the spotlight has been on Big Lad. Why? Because despite my continued disbelief that he is now 11 years old, apparently that makes him ready for secondary school. And for weeks he has been not just ready, but positively feverish about getting stuck into secondary life. To be fair, I've been cringingly proud of him as he has enrolled in a school that none of his little (not little) mates are going to and that is no less than 10 miles away from our house. So last week he faced getting the bus on his own for the first time EVER and walking into an establishment with not one familiar face to help ease him in. I mean, come on, the boy totally rocks.

Back-to-school with the both of them (but not both together any more!)

And the beautifully friendly and close-knit community I live in have not missed a trick. Ex-teachers, friends, shopkeepers are asking how he's finding it all (amazing), how he's managing the transport side of things (with glee), what time he has to get up (6am), what time he gets home (6pm), and is he managing all the homework (remains to be seen). What nobody has asked is: and how is Little Lad?

To be fair, I didn't even ask myself this until I had a weeping wreck on my hands the other day. Traditionally, Little Lad has found the beginning of an academic year pretty tough, so I was ready and armed with soothing reassurances and eternal patience. But to my surprise, he has endured school itself pretty well. It's the seismic shift in his home life that has burst his world right open.

I mean, he's effectively lost his partner in crime, hasn't he? No longer do the two Lads bicker / wrestle / chortle / re-enact inappropriate memes at the breakfast table. White chocolate Coco Pops or not (yes, I am a soft touch), breakfast just isn't the same without Big Lad.

This is how much Little Lad enjoys school mornings these days

There is nobody for Little Lad to perform his 'getting dressed' dance to of a morning; nobody's toothbrush to hide in ever imaginative places; nobody to scrap with about who gets to build what in whose Minecraft world after-school; and nobody to fall into hysterics with at the dinner table over their mother's attempt to serve up actual nutrients on a plate. In fact, the house is spookily quiet.

But the other day, when Little Lad was collapsed in my arms, crying it all out, the house was suddenly filled with haunting howls instead.

I've learned by now to always always let Little Lad have his crying quota. As with many of us, it's a release of epic proportions and it has to happen. No matter how much I want to mop it all up and make everything better, I now realise that a hug is sometimes enough.

I've also learned that words have their place, yes, but there is something magical about the silent soothing of a mum. We're usually so busy throwing words at them (Yes! No! Eat! Shoes! Teeth! Hair!), a bit of quiet can allow real compassion to grow.

On this heartbreaking occasion, I had been about as quiet as I could muster and was just trying to find something - anything - to say to ease my Little Lad's woes, when he sniffed, gulped and spoke up . . .

"It's like I'm in a maze. You know, one of those grass mazes with really tall hedges. And me and my brother are in it together and everything is fine. But then he goes to look round a corner of one of the hedges and suddenly the hedges change and move and I've lost him. Even if I shout for him he can't hear me and I've lost him Mum! I feel like he's gone!"

Flipping heck.

The lad's more poetic than his silly, emotional, author-type mother.

Oh I felt all the proud feels in the world right then and there with his warm, trembling weight in my lap. As well as all the empathic heartbreak on his account for his lost brother.

Of course, we went on to talk about the maze and how it would change again so he could find his brother. That in the coming winter all the leaves would drop and it would be much easier to find their way out together. May as well honour the magnificence of his metaphor, eh?

And I've hinted to Big Lad that his presence is ever-so-slightly missed by a certain someone, so he's taken to giving that certain someone a huge sloppy kiss before he leaves for the bus at silly o'clock in the morning. AND giving that same someone a daily call when he's on his way home in the afternoons. I've been witness to these calls and cannot make head nor tail of them which leads me to suspect they are now acting out the inappropriate memes with the assistance of Face Time.

And I'm not going to get lost in all of this. After over a decade of parenting with all the intensity of Jack Nicholson's eyebrows, I know how important it is that I notice how I'm feeling too. So Little Lad's beautifully definitive metaphor has had me grasping for one. And I've got it. It came to me almost as soon as he described his hedge maze.

My happy place for the month of September

I'm in a hot air balloon and I'm rising up and up so that I can see my two lads clearly. I can see the maze and I can see them looking for each other. I know I can choose to drift upwards and allow them to figure it out, or get close and pull them into my basket so they can escape the maze.

Unless they're performing those ridiculous memes. None of that shit is allowed in my balloon.

Go well (and I hope September is kind to you),


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