The season of September
My Why audio version of this blog available here.
September’s name is actually wrong nowadays. Going back many years it was originally the seventh month in the ancient Roman calendar and was lovingly called Septem, which translates as “the seventh month”. Then, in 451 BC, January and February were added in, making poor Septem the ninth month instead. Personally I think we should go back to calling it Septem, what is the actual point of the ‘ber’ on the end anyway?
So, here we are in Septem, and in the meteorological seasons, Autumn (or Fall), starts on 1st September in the northern hemisphere. So I hate to break it to you, but summer is over folks. Our friends in the southern hemisphere are on the opposite side of things as they welcome the arrival of spring, the equivalent of our March, lucky gits. But it’s not all bad news because in the astronomical year summer actually ends for us on the 23rd September, so you have a few more days left. I have to admit it feels like the southern hemisphere’s winter passes a lot quicker than ours, which just goes to show that time really does fly when you’re having fun, and drag when you’re cold and wet.
Few other useless facts about Septem that you’ll probably forget as soon as you hear them:
It begins on the same day of the week as only one other month, yes, you guessed it, December.
It does not end on the same day of the week as any other month. Oooo.
And its birthstone is the beautiful sapphire - do love that blue.
It’s a month that weather wise brings a lot of hope over here in the UK. In fact, I’ve always said the safest two months for sunny weddings, in England, are May and September, neither of which actually fall in our summer, but both of which I’ve been to amazing weddings during. Sure in Septem the sun is a tiny bit cooler, the evenings are starting to draw in, and the peak of the garden is slightly over, but there’s a freshness to the air that just feels like it could almost be spring again. And there’s the hope of a bit more sun before the depths of winter.
Through history it’s actually a month for hosting a lot of not great events:
In Septem 1666 the great fire of London broke out, creating a nursery rhyme we’d all be forced to sing in a round forevermore.
In Septem 1848 chewing gum was produced for the first time.
In 1939 Hitler invaded Poland, selfishly beginning World War II. However, it also ended in a September in 1945 so the month made up for that one.
In 2001 we had the Twin Towers terrorist attack on the US.
And of course in September 2019 - we were all walking around confident that no one was ever going to confine us to our houses and make us wear masks.
Then there’s the one thing that September is known for over any other thing, the one thing you can’t escape from at the beginning of September. You know it, it begins with S.
Huge whacking great spiders that somehow get into your bathtub and only show themselves once you’re on the toilet unable to make any kind of quick get away! Urgh. And despite my husband's scepticism, I still maintain putting conkers around the house on window sills and near doors is a good way to keep them at bay, I mean who can honestly tell me they’ve seen a spider in a conker tree?! And they’ll be plenty of conkers kicking around for me to gather because sadly, unlike in my youth when they were like gold-dust on the floor, the kids of today are too fragile to play conker fights to the death and seemingly have more exciting things to do on screens indoors. But back to the spiders, apparently, they appear more in our homes in the winter months because the males leave their outdoor homes for a warmer environment to reproduce - so they just casually wander around our homes looking for a female. Well, I refuse to be a spider sex refuge this winter, they can build their own houses. Plus, with the fuel crisis and astronomical bills we’re all fearing over here at the moment, the houses won’t be that much warmer than outside anyway, so the joke’s on them. FYI - I’m planning to up my knitting this winter for warmth.
Anyway, I joke, the ‘S’ that most of us will have been thinking of, that occurs across the world in Septem, is of course - ‘school’. Yes September is ‘back to school month’ and there is so much that can be said on this topic. For good and for bad, which is partly why I’m not actually going to say much about it at all, but there’s a good reason for this. I have just recorded a whole conversation on ‘Back to School’ with a previous guest of ours on the podcast and I’ll be putting that out as a Back to School special on Tuesday. Between us we come at the subject with the experience of being a mum dealing with Back to School days for around 22 years, a loss mum who should have been experiencing the first day at school but never got that chance, and a childless woman who has watched these days pass for others with many different emotions. It’s rare you get all those takes on this day in the same discussion, so for those who find this week/month hard, tune in to a safe space to hear us talk about that on Tuesday.
So there’s one theme for me that’s come up again and again when I’ve looked at September for this blog. And it’s this - tension. September reminds me of, and teaches me about, tension. Extremes. Opposites.
Nice weather - big sex spiders
Still hanging onto summer - marks the beginning of winter
Beautiful sapphire as the birth stone - bad things happen in history
Lots of back to school happy people, lots of back to school sad people
End of the holidays - start of the busyness
Green leaves at the beginning of the month, brown at the end
Catherine Pulsifer tenuously rhymes her words to describe what September is largely about when she described it in her Months of the Year poem:
September sees the kids back to school Back to work and many schedules. Months Of The Year, Catherine Pulsifer
September is full of tension, two opposing thoughts that need to be held at the same time. And this, as loss and griefy people, is a familiar area to us. The tension of learning how to hold joy and grief, hope and loss, pain and love, celebration and mourning, is not unfamiliar.
I actually think if September wasn’t linked to school terms it would be a fascinating month in many ways, a sort of last hurrah of summer and time of reflection before winter, but as it is, we are thrown into schedules and routines instead. Even those of us that don’t run our lives to school terms. People that disappeared during August suddenly pop up again in September with a host of requests like; ‘Shall we meet for this…?’, ‘Do you want a catch up about…?’, ‘Let’s book a date to do…’, ‘Now the kids are back at school let’s…’. I feel like I want to say; ‘Sod off, don’t ruin my Septem, just because your calendar has gone back to normal!’ So this year I’ve decided to take a couple of weeks to do some writing and take a bit of a break (just a home) during September, so I am going to be as intentional as possible about protecting that time from Septem-Stealers as I will now call them.
So, it’s sort of a shame poor Septem is attached to the start of the school year, I actually miss being part of the business world where January to December is how the year runs, or even the April-March tax year. I don't like September being a chapter marker. I want to free it of that and let it be the amazing month it could be. The not-too-hot sunshine weather with hints of autumn tinting the tail end of it.
By all these lovely tokens September days are here, With summer’s best of weather And autumn’s best of cheer. Helen Hunt Jackson
How amazing does that sound as a month?!
Peggy Toney Horton has a quote that begins with:
Ah, September! You are the doorway to the season that awakens my soul… Peggy Toney Horton
But I won’t tell you how it ends because that’s for next month.
September brings warm days, cool nights And you find some children delight In going back to school each day And others hate it in every way. A Reason To Celebrate, Catherine Pulsifer
There you go, more tension, a day that brings delight and hate to children.
We spend our whole lives living this way, holding things in tension. Tension is pulling something tight, stretched, it’s two opposing things, ideas, people or concepts that work in different directions. If they were both to join together or go in the same direction the tension is lost, and certain things only work when they have tension; the strings on a musical instrument, the rope a strong man uses to pull a car, washing lines, telephone wires, it’s a crucial word you’ll hear a lot in knitting and crochet, a swing, when pulling a rope toy for a dog (it’s a very unfulfilling game for the dog if you don’t provide some tension), parasailing, bridges, tightropes, spanx! Without tension in these things they aren’t fit for purpose and the middles go all loose and flabby (especially with spanx). When we have tension with another person it’s because we’re pulling in two different directions, both work together in the same direction and the tension is hard to keep alive. But it can become too much, tension in your muscles is them wanting to relax but the stress you’re placing them under stops that happening and pulls them in another direction resulting in pain and discomfort. Holding things in tension stretches us and makes us better, deeper, more mature humans, but even this has to be held in tension so we don’t go to the place of it being too much for us.
I read about something new to me recently - Carl Jung’s ‘Tension of Opposites’. Someone asked Jung once if he thought there would be an atomic war when tensions were high between the US and the Soviet Union and he said this:
I think it depends on how many people can stand the tension of the opposites in themselves. If enough can do so, I think the situation will just hold, and we shall be able to creep around innumerable threats and thus avoid the worst catastrophe of all: the final clash of opposites in an atomic war. Carl Jung
Jung spoke about the importance of holding tension within ourselves.
As children we need structure to allow us to develop in a safe environment, and it’s proven that secure boundaries, routines and rules set by the parent, create a predictable setup for a child’s life which reduces uncertainty and therefore anxiety. So we learn choices by being given two options, and there are consequences for choices between good and bad behaviour. But as adults we need to develop an ability to sit in the complexity of a situation long enough to see other options and solutions, holding extremes in tension to find answers sometimes.
Short-term thinking always tries to avoid the genuine need to suffer the opposites long enough for a third way to emerge. Michael Meade
As we mature from young children to young adults, those around us that are older should help us understand that there are often a range of choices available, not just two. Holding those options in tension is part of this process. So when a child is modelled decision making by an adult that just picks the quickest option for the easiest outcome in the short-term, they miss out on learning what it looks like to sit in the mess for a while to let another option emerge, like the quote said. This can lead to the child learning it’s best to make quick, rash decisions, or any choice at all, to ease the current discomfort as quickly as possible. It’s a sort of all or nothing approach that seeks total resolution, which is rarely achievable anyway.
For example, common scenario, child has a meltdown because they want food or a toy, in an embarrassing place for the parent. The parent, knowing the child doesn’t need that thing but just wants to test boundaries has a choice to make, a) quick, easy option in the short term - give the child what it wants, b) harder choice in the short term but better for the child long term - say ‘no’ and risk the consequences of a public meltdown. Now, it’s not easy, no one wants to be in public with a screaming child, but the more that parent says no, and sets boundaries and rules, the quicker the child learns other responses to facing the discomfort of wanting something they can’t have. When a meltdown will produce the desired outcome, i.e. what they want, why do they need to learn negotiation or waiting? So they have learnt to use the tantrum as a go-to quick fix reaction, seemingly the only option before them that gets the desired outcome. When they learn the boundaries, and that this reaction doesn’t work, they start to develop other methods of getting around the situation, such as negotiation or good behaviour. The savvy parent then rewards the good behaviour with what they knew the child wanted anyway. As the child learns to hold the options in tension and find another outcome it builds mental muscles and strength, seemingly the parent is learning this too through their choices, but none of that comes without tension.
A huge sadness I feel about not having children is not having the opportunity to explore and navigate these kinds of lessons in the life of a young mind that’s growing. Releasing dreams of how we’d raise our children, the adults we wanted to be able to encourage from them, and passing on our learnings, is not easy. Life’s lessons are valuable, if you have children don’t forget to pass them onto your children, they will stand them in great stead as adults, more so than other things you might prefer to be giving them sometimes.
Learning that we don’t always get what we want is not fun as a child because we can’t comprehend the bigger picture, but further down the line it creates humans that can handle the inevitable mess and tension and uncertainty that life will throw at them. I would have wanted my children to not be afraid of not knowing everything, or not getting what they want, to learn the art of patience, and sitting in the mess and uncomfortable feelings, because I live in that feeling so often now, and I’m grateful, despite it being frustrating, having grown up learning not to fear it, or feeling the need to jump in and sort things straight away.
In big decisions like feeling the tension of wanting a child but not necessarily feeling all the options were right for us, not jumping to the first option in front of us to get what we want, I believe, has saved us a lot of pain in the long term.
We are all constantly learning that life involves tension, whether in the home, relationships, the workplace, or hobbies, but it’s more than that, it needs it. Opposites and tensions are all around us and life only works when they are in place; night and day, male and female, summer and winter, sun and rain, laughter and tears, sky and sea, conscious and unconscious.
So my advice, don’t immediately choose the easiest path, learn how to feel the awkward, uncomfortable nature of uncertainty, feel the tension, and see what it produces in you, and others.
I think Septem teaches me again to live in that place of tension, with the good and the bad, with the joy and the pain. Tension isn’t a bad thing, we mature when we learn to live life holding onto it.
One example of this that springs to mind is from Elizabeth Leon in Episode 26 of The Silent Why. She talked about the loss of her son who lived for just 28 hours and 10 minutes. When Elizabeth gave birth to him she knew, because he had Trisomy 18, he was unlikely to survive the pregnancy or the birth. When we asked her what her Herman was (the last question we ask all our guests, see the website for more info on that if it makes no sense), she said this:
I think my Herman is that somehow, in a miraculous way, the worst thing and the best thing are sometimes the same thing. This beautiful baby was light and grace and hope, and he changed my life forever. And I grieve him. And it was terrible and sad that he died and I miss him every day, but his life has had so much purpose, his 1,690 minutes have changed people, have changed me, have changed our family. And it's just a miracle that it's both those things at the same time. So the worst thing and the best thing, are both the same thing sometimes. Elizabeth Leon, Episode 26, The Silent Why
And it’s actually Elizabeth I’m chatting to in my Let's Chat... Back to School episode this week, because she and her husband have nine other children between them and she’s seen a lot of Septembers, but also learnt a lot about holding things in tension along the way, especially the joy and pain life throws at us.
So, Septem, I think you get a rough deal in some ways, but in others you’re teaching me a lot about holding life and all its opposites and how much stronger it makes me because of it. Physical muscles grow when you challenge them with more than they’re used to, and we, as humans, grow when we’re challenged with more than we’re used to.
Life isn’t easy, it will stretch all of us, challenge us, derail us, flatten us and knock us down sometimes, but it’s what we do with all those experiences that determine who we are.
Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. Thomas Jefferson
So hold that tension that you have in your life right now, use it to build your emotional and psychological muscles to become a stronger person and see the other options that present themselves to you. Be the human, parent, man, woman, child, dog or hedgehog you were made to be, by not always taking the first, easiest option before you.
In any part of your life and anything you do, there's usually a quick way to get somewhere and there’s a right way. I would always say, go the right way, even if you don't get to where you want to get to, do it the right way, because if you do it the quick way, it's gonna come back and bite you on the arse. Steve Keogh, Episode 33, The Silent Why