Ring a-ring o’ roses,
A pocketful of posies.
We all fall down!
Autumn is my favourite time of year; there’s still warmth in the sun, the shadows are long and languishing, the trees glow with golden ochres, reds and oranges. Until their leaves grow rusty and start to fall. Then the crunching underfoot and the mulchy, mushroomy smell as they rot back into the ground, blows a waft of sadness through the air. A tinge of melancholia. But we’re not meant to feel sad these days are we? Happy, happy, happy is the name of the game. Sadness is like falling, or failing.
But sad isn’t all bad. It is often laced with other, warmer emotions. There’s a certain sadness at looking at photos of our kids when they were little, a sense of time passing, never to be reclaimed and yet nostalgia also makes us smile at happy times gone by. Our kids feel sad when a pet dies but their feelings of loss arise out of having felt love, companionship and connection with another being. Last Sunday we were taking an autumnal saunter along the river and we passed a family laden with muddy scooters, dog and two quarreling children. The kids were told off and a whole family grumpiness ensued. Then the little girl got bored and ran up to her daddy, skipping alongside him awhile before piping up, “do you miss being a child?” It stopped him in his tracks, ousted him from his heavy mood as he looked down at her and smiled. “Yeah sometimes. Sometimes in life you miss what you haven’t got anymore.” She grinned as she grabbed her scooter from him. “I like being a child.”
When your kid falls and grazes a knee, you pick them up, wash off the wound, wipe away their tears and hold them tight. Your touch soothes their sadness, your love ebbs away their pain. Sometimes we can’t make things better; when a child’s best friend chooses someone else, or they fail an exam, or they’re worried about something they can’t put their finger on. We can’t take the sadness away but we can help them turn the energy into something else. We can take them outside and kick a football about, or dig up some weeds in the garden, or paint a picture about what they’re feeling, or write it down in a little notebook. Taking action is often a way to tackle feelings we can’t understand or control.
When my daughter was starting the year leading to her GCSEs, I heard her crying in her bedroom one night. In the dark she told me how scared she was that she wouldn’t be able to get through them.
So I turned on the light, got out a pen and paper and drew a mountain with a little tiny girl figure at the bottom. “Does it feel like that?” She nodded glumly. Then I drew steps up the side of the mountain. “Would that make it easier to climb?” She agreed it would, so we made a plan. We broke down the mammoth task of studying for all those subjects into manageable chunks. And slowly as she worked through the steps over the next few months her sadness and fear of failing turned into confidence that she could tackle anything if she chunked it down.
Sometimes though we as parents really can’t fix things. When my kids were little we had pet house rabbit called Elvis – he was black and really did have a quaff and was utterly adorable. He was meant to live about ten years, which would have seen us through to the kids leaving home but things in life don’t always go to plan. When he was five he had a stroke. The vet couldn’t do anything and he came home for a few days before we realised he’d had enough of struggling and we took him back to the vet who put him out of his misery. The kids were at school and we braced ourselves to tell them. They were devastated as it was their first brush with death. They couldn’t understand it, they railed against it, they sobbed. But it was burying Elvis on the allotment and planting a rose on his grave that gave them a way out of their sadness. Surrounded by the natural process of autumn, they could see plants and flowers dying; sinking into the ground. And we were able to talk about how in spring-time, other plants and flowers would grow in their place. We gave a child’s version of Newton’s 1st Law of Physics and the Buddhist teaching that energy cannot be destroyed; it doesn’t disappear it just changes form. Elvis was in the earth but in his place a rose was growing. Ten autumns on we still remember him, with wistful sadness and loving affection. And that’s the yin and yang of life, two sides of the same coin, we can’t have one without the other. And that’s ok because that’s just how it is.
Fishes in the water
Fishes in the sea
We all jump up with a
One, two, three!
Lou Hamilton is an artist, writer, well-being coach and creator of the illustrated book Brave New Girl- How to be Fearless published by Orion Spring.