Thursday before the light festival, I look out the window at our courtyard. It is filled with autumn leaves. In my head, I see my girls and I out there, cleaning up the garden, raking up the leaves and then jumping in them again (cue schmaltzy music), before finally lighting a fire in the fire pit to toast marshmallows and celebrate the end of Samhain. It’s so idyllic I can barely stand myself.
I’ve a bee in my bonnet about festivals and establishing our family culture through celebrations that reconnect us with nature’s rhythms and cycles. Probably it’s because I feel disconnected from them. Days and weeks flow by, and I feel caught up like on a treadmill, with so much doing. Summer flies by, turns into autumn and before I know it, winter is here, and I feel like I’ve forgotten to make time to connect with any of it.
Of course, this is not entirely true. The girls and I spent much of this summer climbing trees and riding our bikes. We’ve spent time at the beach, and swum, and collected shells, and we’ve made sandcastles. This autumn, we have collected autumn leaves, we have danced in them, and rolled in them, and thrown them about. We have cooked pumpkins and baked muffins and explored painting in autumnal colours. Yet my inner perfectionist is still not pleased, it’s not enough.
When Sunday finally arrives though, we are sick, and tired, and ratty. My husband is due home this morning, but his flight has been delayed. He’s been gone a week, and I’ve slept maybe 12 hours over the course of the week. Nothing has gone to plan, but still, I am holding fast to the idea that our family will have a magical time around the fire pit this afternoon. Instead it drizzles all afternoon, and all my girls wind up doing is snuggling up under blankets reading books and drawing.
It is lovely but it is not a fire.
‘Can I go outside now?’ whines my eldest for the second time. My youngest sneezes, and I don’t want to lift my head.
‘Of course,’ I say, dragging myself, upright. ‘You need your beanie and your scarf, your jacket and your waterproof pants.’ I’ve been on a winter spending spree and bought anything that promised warmth. The waterproof pants are felted wool overalls, they are adorable – and very warm. My girls hate them.
My eldest screws up her face up for a minute, weighing up whether it is worth the argument. Clearly she decides it isn’t, and pulls the offending pants on without another word.
Downstairs, she rips the cover off the sandpit, only to discover the sand is now under 10 cm of water. It has rained, a lot. The drainage holes I made are not working. Confusion turns to delight as she grabs a bucket and a watering can and starts making muddy puddles everywhere.
My husband’s face turns from delight to confusion, to sheer terror as he arrives home to find her grey pants are brown and her face covered in mud.
‘Mama, I love these pants,’ she calls up to me, as I stand watching her from the window of the first floor, her sister wrapped in my arms as she stands on the window ledge calling out autumn leaf pie recipes to her sister.
‘I’m glad,’ I call back.
Eventually, we all end up out there. The girls frolicking in the water and the leaves, me tending to the plants, and my husband sitting just inside the door, watching the formula one and pretending the mess is not actually happening.
Things rarely look how we want them too, and I find that perfect always comes with too much tension. We didn’t rake up the leaves, nor did we light the fire, but as we sat around the table for dinner with our faces flushed, my perfectionist calmed down long enough to consider that maybe what we’d done had been enough.