This season feels familiar.

I find myself repeating these words often. When this happens, I have learned to take notice.

It is the start of a new school year. The four children who live at home range in age from 15-10. These are my (not so) littles who are now the ages of the “bigs” when they were born. This month finds all four adult children, the “bigs”, in their 20s. Time marches on.

As I step into the fullness of parenting a second set of offspring on the cusp of independence, I realize how much I missed when the first bunch was this age. I was busy tending littles ages 5, 3, 2, and infant.

My firstborn was 15 the summer the youngest was born. The others were 14, 13, and 9. The nine year old got lost in the shuffle, not big, not little. We stood together in my room recently. I listened to his words.

I feel like I disappeared.

All I could do was hear his reality, hug him, and cry, grieving lost time and all that we missed together. Just because the others have not spoken those exact words, each has his or her own story of where they were missed or where I vanished from their story.

These days are structured around my children’s schedules. From morning school drop off to afternoon pick up and all points in between, they joke about mom’s bus service. It is truth. It feels familiar, yet different.

This time I drive a red five-passenger ​Toyota Corolla instead of a fourteen-passenger ​Chevy Express. ​I am not loading small people into car seats before each trip. I can listen to ​NPR​ or podcasts en route and not silly songs or children’s books. During appointments I can sit in the waiting room with a book or journal rather than navigate the toy basket, sippy cups, and diapers.

Physical needs have lessened. Emotional ones have increased. I grieve my lack of awareness and ability to engage the hearts of my adult children when they were tweens and early teens. I was so busy managing all of the externals that I missed what was inside.

Since my youngest is now 10, it is easy to subtract from everyone’s age to see where we were at the height of family life under one roof, and I wish those years were not a blur.

In the quiet of the waiting room as I sit and write, tears fill my eyes and slide down my face. My chest tightens, a fist squeezing my heart. I fight to breathe air into and past the pain.

I no longer navigate littles like I did ten years ago, but I am ten years older. I feel my age. I see it. My curls hide kindly and well the increasing strands of gray. It comes in thicker on the underside and is most noticeable when I pull my hair up and away from my face.

I am getting what I have longed for. Wisdom. It comes at a cost.

Though I have done much work over the past twelve years, I can feel where there is more to do by how I respond to questions surrounding my story. I can tell by how I respond to my children.

Sometimes I am attuned to growth and can praise the progress, other times I find myself curling inward with shame.

When I am kind to myself in my story, I am open to receiving the grief and grace offered me by my adult children. I can hear their hurt with humility and accept their narrative as the gift that it is.

When contempt steps in I am closed and harsh with myself. I resist feeling and communicating for fear of the pain. This is familiar.

I long to leave familiar behind and move further into uncharted waters. Twelve years ago when the gentle winds of change began to blow, I put up a sail to see what would happen. Waters grew choppy and winds became harsh. I was tossed about and moved into places that felt terrifying, but there was movement.

The process of learning to sail into the unknown has been both difficult and exhilarating. It has taken me to places I never dreamed possible and caused me to engage life more fully. This is what I want to feel familiar. This is where I want to set my sails.

Julie McClay lives in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley with her high school sweetheart and four of their eight children. She is a lover of stories and words. Having completed Training Certificates 1 and 2 through the Allender Center, she continues learning to face the past honestly while living in the moment and looking towards the future. She finds story work healing and hopeful and seeks to offer this invitation of healing and hope to others. She digs through her thoughts and feelings here.