I suppose I didn’t realize the title of my book, Over My Shoulder, would continue to hold so many new meanings. The view behind me is ever-changing. I have been warned by fellow moms about this new view, but I am struggling to see it clearly as I experience unexpected emotions, and know I have no choice but to accept the image. It isn’t that the new view is bad, just different. I first noticed it last week as I drove away from the school, having just dropped off all four of our kids…the youngest for his first day of Kindergarten. As I turned the corner out of the school parking lot, I glanced over my right shoulder to the site of every seat in my usually crowded and bustling van…empty.

This is what I am calling ‘my first empty nest’. For twelve years I have had children flanking my side during all that I do. Now, they have all been ‘launched’; well, an initial launch in preparation for the bigger one that will happen when they graduate and soar off into the great big world, that offers Big Realities. One by one, we have raised our children, under our constant care before releasing them to school. Now, there is nobody home during the day to need me.

I really do enjoy the cleaner, quieter house. And, after five months home together (thanks, COVID-19), they were starting to get on each other’s nerves. These new sites I’m seeing will take some getting used to. Some of them include: vacant seats at the table during lunch, my lap without a child sitting in it wanting to snuggle or read, hockey sticks and nets and balls set up in the family room, girls dancing to music videos, socks and shoes sitting by the back door, a tiny human with a bleeding knee asking for a band-aid. With the chaos of four little people living like kids (or sometimes animals) comes a lot of joy (and whining, and disciplining, and teaching, and reassuring, and hugging, and encouraging).

I have to believe that as much as I have been working to prepare them for this part of the journey, my heart has also been prepared. The many years of constant and physically exhausting parenting of littles has readied them to ‘launch’ into the school years, becoming friends, students, leaders, and explorers of the world. Watching them step out of the van with confidence and excitement each morning reassures my heart that they are right where they need to be. As a dear friend once told me, “The busyness of your day will shift from the early morning hours to 3-9 each evening.” She was right. When 3 o’clock comes, we are busy reminiscing about the school day, completing homework, chauffeuring to sports, riding bikes, cooking dinner, playing games and braiding hair. There are new joys to be found during these next few years. One thing stands out as interesting…older kids do not like 7 o’clock bedtimes like they once did at three and four years old, and as their bedtimes get later, I continually feel mine needing to be earlier!

For this time of transition, as I grieve the leaving behind of the toddler and preschool years, I am holding onto the experiences of my past…experiences that have repeatedly shown how each season (both good and bad) has provided perspective and guidance for the next. While the kids will now spend their days at school, I hope to spend mine continuing to prepare myself to be wholly available as whatever kind of mom they may be needing when they get back into my van each afternoon, ready to refill their love buckets. The listening mom, the teaching mom, the understanding mom, the helpful mom, the hugging mom, the trusting-in-God’s-plan mom, the patient mom, the cry-with-you mom, the fun mom, etc. I also feel excited that I will have more time to do things that fill my love bucket, such as volunteering, writing, speaking, sharing hope and encouragement with parents, young women, teens, survivors, and people learning to thrive instead of survive.

I know that with each day spent in this new season, the changing views Over My Shoulder will provide all I need to continue forward, enjoying the new landscape in front of me.

Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not
Depart from it.”
Proverbs 22:6