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My son and I began our after-drop off ritual last week, when my daughter started school again. After bringing her to her classroom, my son and I go for a walk around the nature preserve that her school sits in the heart of, trotting down familiar paths that nevertheless manage to surprise us with their seasonal displays.
It is my daughter’s second year at preschool, but her best pal went off to kindergarten this year, and the transition has been a shaky one. Some days, I get a cheery wave goodbye before she busies herself in an activity. Other days, like today, the teacher has to peel her off me while I scoop up my toddler and dash for the door, my cheery and comforting words failing to comfort at all.
As I followed my son across the frog pond dock, watching the first of autumn’s leaves float down towards the water, I thought about transitions, and about the very varied nature of change itself. Sometimes, we regard change as something to celebrate – birthdays for children, heights marked off on walls, new and exciting jobs, the drive to college for the first time.
Not all change, though, is about growth, at least not in the way we tend to think of the word. The metaphors about acorns sprouting into mighty oaks, or caterpillars emerging as glorious butterflies, are certainly tried and true, but sometimes change has to be rough before it gets better.
It isn’t always flashy wings and magnificent trees. Sometimes it’s falling down, being broken-hearted, feeling uncomfortable. Growing pains before the growth spurt. Decay before rebirth. New schools, new jobs and new life events can be wonderful and exciting, but they can also be turbulent and stressful. How can we steer through these types of changes and remember that they are not all bad? That they have something to teach us, if we are willing to let ourselves experience and grow from them?
It’s possible to focus on the aftermath of these events without rehashing the events themselves. I can remember a bad relationship I had, for example, without reliving all those memories – I simply think of what I learned from it, knowing that no matter how terrible it may have been at some points, I know I will never allow myself to be treated that way again.
We can focus on how much stronger we are now, or what we learned, or even the simple fact that we are at peace again, knowing that we made it through rough waters before and are capable of handling, and learning from, difficult changes. What can we do, during these times, to make life a little easier for ourselves? What do we have to learn to accept?
When I pick my daughter up after lunch, I remind her of the good days she has, pointing out that it’s not always so hard, but I also make sure to tell her how proud I am of her that she made it through today. In the thick of changes, it can be hard to remember to do that for ourselves, but it’s vital as well – to acknowledge that we made it through, that we did it, that one day at a time is just fine, and something to be proud of. That this too shall pass, and from this we will learn. That the trees shedding their leaves today will unfurl new ones come Spring.