The Empty Passenger Seat

March 6, 2017

Well, my car buddy has moved on. My co-pilot no longer needs to ride in the jump seat on a regular basis.

My third and youngest child just got her driver’s license.

When I saw her drive off by herself for the first time, I swear I saw her wearing a diaper and playing with the pacifier in her mouth. But when I rubbed my aging eyes and looked again, she was wearing her tortoise-shell glasses, ripped jeans and was smiling from ear to ear as she waved goodbye to me. My last-minute words (or shouts of advice if I’m being totally honest) faded into the air as quickly as her tailights disappeared.

I can now dismantle the taxi sign on top of my car and surrender my family Uber license.

Wow. It really went that fast.

While the needle on my car’s gas gauge will point to full longer now, the needle on my heart gauge will point closer to empty until I get used to her new-found freedom.

She was my constant car sidekick. Constant. I don’t care if I was going on an errand that would last five minutes or five hours, ever since she could talk (I swear she started talking the moment she took her first breath) I would hear her say, “Can I go with you?” with the same look of excitement on her face and inflection in her voice every time.

I’ve always wondered what was so exciting to her about running errands. But in retrospect, it wasn’t about the errands, it was about the adventure of the errands and being with me.

I now have the urge to turn the tables and ask her, “Can I go with you?”

Ok, I’m not that stupid.

Gone are the days of getting the daily text or phone call from school at 3:20 saying, “I’m ready!”

Even when she was a baby, she rode in the car so much with me that we had to move her car seat to the other side of the car every so often so she could look out the other window.

We were trying to prevent her sweet little head from getting dented on one side by staring out the same window so much. The shape of her head was probably centimeters away from needing one of those re-shaping helmets.

As a young mom, I was determined that babies (three babies in four and a half years) wouldn’t change my life so much that I couldn’t do normal, every day things. Yeah, those rose-colored glasses got foggy real quick.

My kids just came with me whenever I went. I was the fool you saw at the grocery store with three kids hanging off the shopping cart. All you could hear me say is “Put that back!” “Stop hitting your sister!” “WHERE IS CAROLINE??”

The moment of truth was when Elizabeth fell backwards out of the cart (yes, I was apparently being irresponsible and letting her stand up in the cart) and landed flat on the back of her head. A woman TWO AISLES OVER heard the thud on the ground and came running to see if she was ok.

I was waiting for her to hold me hostage and call CPS.

I’ve tried to figure out why I was never one for leaving the kids with a babysitter on a regular basis during the day. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment. Or maybe it’s in my DNA. My mom was with me and my sisters 24/7.

But what my mom’s 24/7 didn’t include that my 24/7 included was all the driving. The non-stop driving to and from school, sports activities, birthday parties, runs to Wal-Mart for last minute science project stuff.  My mom was just as busy inside the home (making our dinners from scratch and sewing our Barbies’ clothes!) as my generation is outside of the home.

When my older children started driving, I always had Elizabeth to cart around.

Now, I’m not needed in the same way as I have been for the past 20 years. The car rides were great opportunities to talk. About anything. And sometimes the sharing was greater and deeper because they didn’t have to look me in the eye. Unless it was something big…and sometimes that caused me to turn my attention away from the road and put all of our lives at risk. But that wasn’t very often, thankfully. Plus, I’ve worked on being less reactive over the years.

A whole new world of independence is upon her – as well as a whole new set of rules and responsibility, as she is quickly finding out. Find MyIphone is a gift to the parent of a new driver and can prevent some hand wringing. Gone are the days of, “Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick!” Now, it can be, “I know where you’ve been!

My children inherently know that if they turn off Find MyIphone, I turn off their cell service. Pretty simple cause and effect. I tell them, “Once you go off to college, I will not hunt you down, I mean track you, like I did when you were a new driver.”

Elizabeth is not the only one with new-found independence. I’ll have more independence as a mother than ever before. I’m not really crazy about that notion to be honest. But time is continuing to march on and give me a beat down.

I have found something out about worry and control. The more control I supposedly have (everyone in the nest, dependent on me), the more I tend to worry. I have more opportunity to be involved and convince myself I have control. Control is such an illusion.

When I saw my third and last child drive away on her own for the first time, I felt like was having an outer body experience. Then I realized something.

My role as a parent is changing by the minute. I’m anxious to see what God has in store for my children. And I’m anxious to see what God has in store for me as I embark on a new journey after I’ve ushered all my babies out of the nest. Hard to believe that process will be complete in two years.

While my children won’t be in the jump seat of my car anymore like before, I plan to put myself in the jump seat emotionally. I plan to buckle up in that seat and look at God as my pilot and say:

“Can I go with you?”

“I’m ready!”

I’m adding a couple of new recipes on my website. Look under the Breakfast tab for My Favorite Brunch. There’s also a new centerpiece that has been added.








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  • Cara Berkman March 7, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    Have you already forgotten?!?!?!?!?! Your independence is NOT soon approaching…. I have been reminding you for years that after Lizzie leaves, I’m handing over two of mine for you to help raise! Don’t worry… you’ll never get to be a empty nester!
    You’ve been the parent I’ve admired the most. I have learned so much from you and I am forever thankful for your example.

  • Becke Burns March 6, 2017 at 11:07 pm

    Ok, I cried on this one Julie!! Your baby!!!

  • Suzy K March 6, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    Awesome! You’ve done good mom!!!Good luck sweet Lizzy!!