a seat for one

I love going school supply shopping. There is something about a new school year and new supplies. They are untouched and unblemished. Fresh. Ready and waiting to be opened and used for the very first time. Blank pages are filled with hope and excitement for the year ahead.

Earlier this month, we embarked on the annual trip for Kate’s school supplies. She starts third grade tomorrow (She is growing up too fast, but that’s another post for another day), and it’s a nice, long list we have to fulfill. Last year, I made the mistake and took her a little too late in the summer to avoid the crowds, and everything was picked over. Needless to say, we made the trek a little earlier this year.

As we arrived in the store, you couldn’t miss the school supply section. It was pandemonium contained in three short aisles. There were parents and kids and carts everywhere. Little ones were zipping in between all the carts, darting to the next supply or toy they could find. Moms had their game face on, tasked with a mission reviewing lists and checking prices.

With Kate’s list in hand, we started our search line by line, aisle by aisle. Back and forth we went, dodging the family we just passed minutes earlier. I joked that school supply shopping would be a good game show or comedy act. Some of these lists are very detailed with the supply kids need to have. It’s quite comical trying to manage Kate and the supplies she’s picking out, an 11 month old baby, and dodging all the chaos.

When we marked off the last item, it felt like we won the lottery. We roamed back to the front of the store and checked out. We came and we conquered!

As we strolled back to the car, though, the relief quickly left my body.

Out of nowhere, the realization hit me that if Jackson were still here, he would be starting school this year. He would be in 4K at the same school as Kate. The same list I was checking off for Kate had Jackson’s list on it. His first backpack to carry school supplies. Markers. Crayons. Folder. Glue for all the beautiful art projects he would carry home, leaving me to wonder what I should do with all of his unique pieces. Small snapshot of your child (probably to post on the bulletin board so all the kids can learn who their classmates are).

But none of those items were in my cart this year. No new backpack. No new markers and crayons for my 4K student. Oh, how I long to have a pile of Jackson’s artwork that I need to figure out what to do with.

And no small snapshot of my child.

Fast forward to the other night when we had open house at Kate’s school to meet the teacher, see the classroom and drop off supplies. As we walked through the double doors, I envisioned Jackson with us. It should have been his night, too. I took a deep breath and just asked God to be with me.

For the next 45 minutes, I found the strength I needed to truly enjoy the experience with Kate. We laughed and smiled as we met her teacher, saw old friends and browsed through her new classroom. This was Kate’s moment to enjoy, and we did together.

I am grateful God’s grace provides a break in the grief when I need it most. But it always circles back around.

When I got home after the open house, my strength melted, and I cried. Milestones like this are difficult for me. I can’t help but sit and wonder what Jackson would look like as he went to school for the very first time. What kind of student would he be? Would he even like school or would he cling to me because he was scared and nervous?

Jackson had a love/hate relationship with the school bus. He hated to see Kate get on the school bus everyday, but he loved when she bounced down the bus’ stairs arriving home. I think about how he would have loved walking hand-in-hand with Kate to the bus stop and riding to school alongside his sister. She would have wrapped her arms around him and protected him the only way a big sister can. And I would have cried because my little boy was growing up so fast.

Kate’s first day of school is tomorrow, and it will be difficult for me. I will be happy and excited for her. But as soon as that bus drives away, the tears will fall again because Jackson isn’t sitting next to her.

As Kate starts a new chapter in her life, my heart swells with pride. She is a strong, brave young girl who has a heart filled with love and kindness. I’m sure she will be a little nervous tomorrow as she boards the bus, unsure of what the year will bring. And I will worry about her because I am her mother, and that’s what I do. But just like she would have protected her little brother on his first day of school, I know Jackson will be watching over her and protecting her the best and only way he can.

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

-John 16:33