I sit in an ancient oak-beamed Sussex pub (as always props to Adrian Plass for capturing Sussex joys so well). Before me a pint of beer sits on the table. Locals chat around me as I wait for the food menu, my impatient stomach longing for food to replace the energy I’ve extended today.
I was dropped at Housedean Farm by my family about 6 hours ago. From there I set out, braced against the wind and rain to walk to Firle where a pub dinner and posh shed in someone’s back garden awaited for me for the night.
It was a long walk. 12 miles later and my feet are complaining. My face, though, has that warm glow of being battered by high winds on top of the South Downs.
Today and tomorrow I am walking some of the South Downs Way. Towards the end of the summer holidays I got itchy feet and as son2 settles into school life I wanted to mark the big change in our rhythms of life. I wanted time away from Lego and cuddles and shouty emotions poured out on me because I am safe. I wanted time to process. Time to remember and time to enjoy the arms of love provided by my Maker, my reason, my friend who calls me loved.
We have reached the end of the preschool years. For seven years my daily life has been lived in the close immediate world of early years parenting. When son1 was born I felt very strongly that the metaphor for my life was of a forest glade, the horizon limited down to what I could see in front of me. Life was about the immediate. The here and now as I rocked my boy to sleep and shuffled through years of sleep deprivation. Eventually I found time to explore the forest a bit more but the views never quite returned in the same way.
Oddly my children mostly sleep now. They are growing slowly less all consuming as the days and weeks go on. Life is getting better in many ways. We can do more than we used to and we are growing up as a family together.
As I walk along the South Downs Way over these couple of days I’m processing the changes of these 7 years. I used to think I was looking forward to the end of these years so I could get life back. As I walked away from my gorgeous family today I had an overwhelming sense that I am not now suddenly going to get life back. Even more overwhelming was the feeling that I didn’t want to get my old life back. I am irreversibly different to the Kath of 7 years ago. I have been changed and altered in so many ways by the wonder of my two beautiful boys. By the persevering in the pain of love, by the walking through the long parched desert of early years parenting, by coming to terms with the reality that parts of me are now walking around without needing to be attached to me all the time (80% of the time still for the youngest but that’s still 20% for me to drink coffee and read books)
We are 7 years into this parenting lark and for me the horizon is moving again. Walking along the top of the Downs reminds me that there is a world out here with wide open views. I’m feel like I’m on the edge of my forest gazing out at paths before me. As I look out I sense the small ones next to me, hand in hand looking out over the fields eager to explore with me, or their beloved Daddy or on their own. I wonder where the paths will take us. I wonder what life will look like when they set out to form their own paths.
Whatever happens I know that always, within me, the forest glade will be there in our relationship. There will always need to be space for us to gaze at each other in the deep present, those moments might be less as the years go by but I always want to offer that space where we focus in and leave the wide open spaces for the safe quiet places, where we can listen to each other and remember how we love and are loved.
I want to listen to the old old story again of love that never lets go and pass that on to my boys. I want to embrace the wonder of journeying through life with them and I want to do that from the deep places in me where I am secure in that love which never lets go. I know myself more after 7 years of parenting, I know what I need to sustain me, I know how to help my mental health, I know every now and again that I am so so loved. Out on the downs I felt the parent love of God, the pride of a parent gazing down at me and delighting in all I am.
I know when I look at my boys in love my face changes. I was talking to a friend on Skype once when son2 was smaller, he came down from his nap, I gazed at him and plonked him on my lap to carry on the chat. My friend gasped in delight and said my whole face had changed when he came into the room. I was not aware of it at all but she could see the love I have for him written all over my being.
It seems so crazy to dare to believe that I am loved like that. So crazy to dare to enjoy that wonderful delighted love of my Parent who has loved and nurtured and held onto me throughout my life. And yet why wouldn’t the God of the universe love like that? Why would the One who never ever gave up on the creatures created despite their forgetfulness ever give up on me? The story of love is written across the skies and it is one I cannot escape.
I don’t know what will happen in the next 7 years of my life. I’m still a Mother, I’m still a lover of two wonderful insane boys, I’m still Kath, the one who likes to overanalyse every thought, who forgets she is loved to the moon and back everyday by the Maker of the world, who loves hanging out with her favourite and best, the lovely husbandface, who deeply enjoys coffee, tea, conversations, friends, being outside, beaches, mountains, music, endorphin rushes, the Lake District, cuddles and more.
I am still Kath who every now and again manages to remember not to compare and to be content with all I have been given. I am Kath who feels insecure most of the time and yet is told by many how lovely I am. I am Kath, full of wonder at how loved I am and growing in becoming slightly more secure in that love. Whatever the next few years hold I am still me, I don’t have to get back to some older version, I can walk on knowing that I am growing, changing and held by everlasting arms as I do so.
The preschool years might be over, my new course in Spritual Direction might be starting, the husbandface might be going freelance but in all of the big changes the hands which have held us thus far will lead us on and lead us home. Having children has changed me forever. There is no going back, just walking on with hope to see what is out there beyond this forest.