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.
“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, I always love reading what you write – the honestly and forthrightness about yourself and those around you. It draws me in. Your honesty with your “littles” and “bigs” is going to put wind into their sails as well as yours. They are watching their very brave mama do life, messy, honestly, lovingly, sadly, joyfully. You are giving them tools to do their lives as well. Keep writing. We will keep reading. Thank you for sharing a piece of your heart.
Thank you for your kind affirmation and response in naming what draws you in about my words. Your encouragement to keep writing is needed in this season as I keep leaning in through much ambivalence. I accept your challenge to keep writing, and you are welcome. Thank you for reading.
We have bigs and not so littles too. Your words give voice to many of my musings. My bigs want to process out loud what it was like, and you give me courage to step in anew.
Yes! Take courage and step out. Receive their invitation to process as a gift. Laugh and cry and confess together. Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and embrace their reality of life experienced in your home regardless of your intention. And above all receive their love, forgiveness, and engagement in the spirit offered which I have always found to be so generous. Blessings on the journey!