A few days ago, I was enjoying a quiet natter with my Long-suffering Mother whilst enjoying a nice cup of tea. (I say a quiet natter; she may think it was A Bit of a Rant, but of course, I couldn’t possibly comment.) The subject of the moment was Quakers, and specifically, holding one of the Big Roles within a Quaker Meeting.* As we were talking, I recounted a repeating theme I have heard recently, particularly about Trustees and Trusteeship: “I couldn’t do that if I was working”; “this is a job for someone with more time.” When did these roles become such all-consuming monsters? And how are we ever going to manage to realise our beautifully-expressed vision of genuine inclusivity if we believe that most of our work can only be done by those who are willing and able to cast aside all other interests in their lives to make Quakerism the only thing of significance? (If you want to read more about this vision, incidentally, start with our most recent Epistle. It’s epic.) Do They not realise how outlandishly privileged you have to be to be able to enter the ranks of the Actively Retired? No grandkids – or if you have them, also kids who are well off enough to be able to afford childcare; a job that allowed you enough money to retire before your body forced you into it; good health and good education and a stable living environment – and that’s before you get into the requirements of having a decent computer with a good internet connection and not being afraid to use it…
As I was
ranting talking, I made an offhand comment; one I have made many times before. “If I can be Clerk to Trustees whilst also having a pretty intensive job and two small children, it can’t be that bad!” Interrupting my Mother’s likely responses about gluttony in the punishment arena and my deep-seated inability to say no, The Palaeontologist piped up and shut down the conversation with: “I am not a small child.” And she’s absolutely right. She’s not. She’s bloody-minded, bloody irritating, and bloody marvellous, switching between modes in the blink of an eye and a flick of her increasingly expressive eyebrows. I sneezed, sometime in the last couple of years, and totally missed her transition into something that is no longer Small; though certainly not as grown up as she would like either. Some of her changes are heart-rending: my words can no longer fix the problems of the world, and she now realises what I have long suspected: that if I ever had the answers, I don’t any more. Some of her changes are amazing: only someone else who grew up with more books than friends will appreciate the unrivalled bliss of sharing opinions on childhood favourites with an avid reader who is enjoying them for the first time.
It’s not just her that’s changing; I am too. I caught myself thinking “Are they still worrying about that? Goodness, it was a problem even in my day!” About girls’ clothing. About how difficult it is to buy clothing for 4 year old girls that doesn’t look like and feel and fit like it was made for teenagers. As though it has been decades since I bought a pair of boys’ jeans from the local charity shop and cut them down to make shorts because the shops had nothing but hot pants, rather than it just being 5 years ago. As though it has been decades since I had any say at all in what The Palaeontologist chooses to wear. Even in my head, I am no longer that parent of young children. I am already the parent of people starting to tread their own uncertain way outwards into the world, no longer looking to me for support, love and nourishment; though still running back when they need reassurance after all, thank God. I’m no longer that parent of young children; it just took one of those not-so-young-anymore children pointing it out to make me realise it.
Transitioning from one life stage to another is hard. Having Young Children is a handy screen to hide behind, a reason to avoid everything from having regular haircuts to having a social life to having to admit what you can do on your own, what you can no longer do on your own, and what you have no interest in doing on your own. Having Young Children puts you at a certain point in your life and means that you can ignore your own aging as everyone remarks instead on the visible growth of your offshoots; and it means that they are still adorable enough that you can get away without having any of those tough conversations you really don’t want to have, about their choices or your own. Accepting and admitting that you have moved into a new stage – one with far fewer nights feeding on the sofa, fewer cuddles, just as many tears and probably more bruises – means accepting what you have lost, what you want back, what you really hope to gain but might miss altogether. Change is terrifying; a liminal space where things move neither forwards nor backwards, but circle around you in a maelstrom of currents until, all of a sudden, you find yourself standing on a new shore, disoriented and unaware of what point your feet touched solid ground, and still unsure which direction you should take from here. And yet, if you had stopped; if you had fought to go back, or go otherwards, or stay still; if you had stopped, you would have drowned for sure. Change is terrifying; but it is the only choice we have.
*The Big Roles are things like Trustees, Clerks, and Treasurers. Quakers will not be alone in struggling to find volunteers to fill roles within worshipping communities, of course (I sometimes wonder if the struggles of finding Treasurers is really the thing that unites all branches of the Church); but given our lack of paid ministers, and our tradition of holding roles for only a few years before handing them on to someone else within the Meeting, the struggle to find
willing victims volunteers is akin to painting the Forth Bridge – never-ending and pretty thankless.