The Rise and Fall of Autumn
I always feel a bit lost when autumn approaches. On the one hand, I love chunky wool sweaters, rich red and gold leaves, harvesting my vegetable patch and the feeling of renewal that comes with back to school. On the other hand though, it’s the end of summer, which I’ve decided, is my favourite season. It’s also the gateway to winter, which I’ve also decided, is my least favourite season.
There was a time, not too long ago, when I considered autumn to be my favourite. Have you ever stopped to wonder how many of your favourite things are in fact your own? That may sound like a strange question but stay with me for a moment. How many likes, dislikes, opinions and behavioural patterns are leftovers from your upbringing and how many are actually based in conscious exploration? Better yet, how many of those actively serve you in your day-to-day life?
I’m not sure if the cause of this introspection is my meditation practice, my yoga journey or being a mother. Over the past few years though, I’ve been paying close attention to my tendencies and penchants - specifically those automatic gut-responses. Some are fairly easy to recognize and within the realm of my parents’ values while others seem to appear out of nowhere. I was a happy kid raised by loving parents. I may have had a strong penchant for wanting to please (which I’m still working on), but generally speaking, I was encouraged to think for myself from a young age. However, like most kids, my family’s and community’s social and moral code shaped my opinions and perceptions.
It makes sense that children who feel safe and loved would want to adopt their parents’ ways of life as a show of solidarity and belonging. For example, my Mom loves fall. It is hands-down her favourite season. She seems to come alive as the temperature starts to drop. As a young girl, I loved watching my Mom fix her hair, put on makeup, paint her nails and head off to work. She was always so well put together and beautiful no matter the season. My favourites, were her fall outfits. They weren’t the thin cotton summer skirts paired with cardigans necessary for the air-conditioned climate of the office where she worked. They weren’t the suits that were covered and crumpled by coats, scarves, hats and mittens. Nope, my favourites were the dark-coloured skirts and blazers that she wore in the fall. That’s also when she would resume making things like chicken stew and tea biscuits. If fall was my favourite person’s favourite season, I decided it would also be mine.
Many amazing things happen in the fall. My husband and I were married in the fall, on a ranch surrounded by pumpkins and gorgeous fall leaves. It was magical and one of my favourite days. Both my younger daughter and I celebrate birthdays in the fall. However, as I became older, this season started to develop a more ominous quality for me. I noted that my mood would drop along with the temperature. I would feel sad, heavier, as summer was ushered away. With the dwindling hours of sunlight and the cooler temperatures came a sort of lethargy, a desire to turn inward. As the trees became bare and colour leached out of my surroundings, it brought to mind hibernation or death. How depressing! I would drag my feet right through autumn until winter hit dead on. I would cheer a bit when the sun would reflect off the white crisp snow. Unfortunately, those sunny winter days are usually accompanied by a chilly -30 degree Celsius and of that, I am most definitely not a fan.
I came to the realization that I really didn’t like fall that much at all. That may seem quite insignificant but I felt oddly disloyal. Hadn’t my young-child self proclaimed autumn to be my most favouritest season of them all? If it really wasn’t, did that mean that my Mom and I were in fact quite different? I think most of us will accept opinions and adopt attitudes and behavioural patterns that are modelled when we are young and impressionable. Isn’t part of growing up about figuring out what truly works for us and letting go of what doesn’t? I think so. The challenge though, is with the letting go.
Some types of, let’s call it “residue”, are easier addressed than others. For example, religion is a tricky one for me. My husband and I were married in a civil ceremony. He wasn’t practicing any form of religion and I was raised French Catholic. When our kids came along, it seemed like a no-brainer for me that our kids would go to French Catholic school. The language part was an easy sell (let the school teach them French grammar, I say!) but the religion part was deliberated a bit more. For me, it wasn’t a tangible thing. I vehemently disagree with the Church’s standpoints on sex and gender equality, marriage, contraception and more. Why would I want my kids educated in that general setting then? My husband wondered how a self-proclaimed feminist could rationalize that. I couldn’t quite explain it. It was a feeling. It was about having my kids learn about something bigger than themselves. It was about respect, love and treating others as they themselves wanted to be treated. I felt quite confident that my feminist views would rub off on them sufficiently but did that mean that I didn’t trust us as a couple to impart the fundamentals of love and respect? Or maybe, much like French grammar, the concept of God, a higher being, was something I thought best left to someone else? I struggled quite a bit and overthought this. My girls did end up in French Catholic school and I haven’t regretted the decision. We do, as a family, speak regularly about current events, the tenets of other religions and social justice issues. As it turns out, my worry that Catholicism and current social issues were incompatible turned out to be unwarranted. My older daughter has a few friends who are gender fluid and well accepted at school. She’s quite on top of the respectful references and corrects me when I slip up and use the wrong pronoun.
I can’t rationally explain my pull toward Catholicism and I am not actively prepared to fully let it go at this time. However, downgrading a season? Yes, this I can do! I’ve shed autumn as my fave and have even told my mother so. Once in a while we’ll discuss the weather and go on about what we each like or dislike about the end of summer and arrival of fall. And you know what? I still love her and admire her and vice versa. Who knew?! I also know that we would be okay if I decided to no longer be Catholic or change my mind about pretty much anything.
At the end of the day, I think most parents, me and mine included, want their children to lead happy, fulfilling lives. Some parents may be a bit more vocal or controlling about what that life should look like but every one of us has the responsibility to figure out what feeds our very own soul. It’s not work that can be done by anyone else. Sometimes, breaking with tradition or adopting slightly different values than our family members or communities can be tricky. It doesn’t need to be confrontational or assertive to the point of shouting our differences from the rooftops, though sometimes it must be. No two situations are the same. Self respect and respect for others must be part of growth. Our opinions and attitudes deserve introspection and adjustment for that growth to occur.
I feel fortunate to live in a country where we see four distinct seasons. My animosity toward autumn doesn’t prevent me from appreciating its beauty and I’ve come to associate fall with a time to focus on the positives and to pull out Mom’s chicken stew recipe. I’m self aware enough to feel sadness nipping at my heels this time of year. It’s a wakeup call to slow down, to pick up a good book, to increase my meditation practice, to use my phone to actually speak to someone rather than text, to amp up my gratitude practice and to get enough sleep.
Fall may not be my season but I can and do make the most of it because I owe it to myself and to those around me to be happy. It’s important to nurture yourself. In order to do that though, you need to learn to listen to your body, explore your feelings and dare to be yourself.