Back to School and Empty Shoes

Turning into a parking lot full of cars, I pull into a space and switch off the engine.

Eighth grade Daniel in the chair beside me folds his tall lanky body over to grab his backpack.

“Okay, classes with prefixes A or B are in that building,” I point behind us, “and classrooms with C-prefixes are here.”

We both glance at the large building before us. We consult the registration email on my phone, guessing where his two new classes will be –wrongly, I learn later.

“Have fun!” I chirp excitedly.

He grins at me, cocking an eyebrow. Long brown hair dangles over one eye like his dad’s did when I met him in college. With angled cheekbones and dark eyes, my son is growing up so fast beside me. He’s as tall as me, maybe taller now, the days adding inches this summer.

Daniel throws his backpack across his shoulder and heads out  to Beginning Spanish. I watch him lope off, his legs looking so long and skinny in those black jeans. In high-top white, black and red sneakers, and soft white hoodie, his sense of style expresses itself quietly. He disappears from view and I smile-sigh, the air rushing happy from my nose as I turn on the ignition and carefully back out of my spot.

At home these last ten days, social media posts from friends, family, and acquaintances flash photos of similar scenes. Large two front-teethed elementary kids smile, holding signs of their grades. Summer freckles scatter across senior high students, their own signs of eleventh or twelfth grade dwarfed in their hands. Their graduations loom fast. In between the scrolling screens of boys and girls holding signs of “Preschool,” “First Grade,” Twelfth Grade,” my sister and a friend suddenly spoke up.

Their words are a gentle reminder to me that Back to School moments are double-edged. Mixed in between black and white composition notebooks and bulging backpacks are the silent moments, the empty shoes standing vigil.

Friends post photographs of delightfully-dimpled babies, counting months old with rings on blankets, and yet I know the names that they remember too. The names they speak in tenderness, the sorrow still creeping up unbidden to choke their throat and fog up their eyes. We nod, them and me, and let those names hang in the air. And whether these names come with the ache of infertility, or from children whose lives stopped too short — in utero or outside the womb– or even as tall, lanky eighteen year olds– their names are special, valuable.

Jonathan, Brian, Andrew, Evelyn, Jackson, Penny, Daisy, Eden.

You mamas, you are not alone. We remember — we try to anyway– wanting to stand beside you in silent solidarity.

Those precious, invaluable lives — whether seven weeks in utero, or fifteen weeks whose dancing limbs make your tummy bounce and who doctors say feel pain and pleasure, these wee ones to whom we give anesthesia for any in-utero medical procedures — their lives are valuable at all stages.

She had asked it once, a nurse at a routine doctor’s appointment, and the question caught me off-guard. Accustomed to the usual “How many children do you have?”-question, the nurse’s variant: “How many times have you been pregnant?” added a more telling count.

“Four times,” I said softly, remembering Jackson, the miscarried child between Morgan and Daniel. His empty sandals had sat atop the television set in our tiny living room in September 2007, outlasting his life. The grey and brown sandals stood vigil. I was adamant that they stay there –outward markers of a life conceived, a person created, of a loved one unmet. Jackson. Only seven weeks along in utero, but I’ll meet him or her one day.

The names and losses of loved ones from friends and family come to mind. Five months along, whether in or out of utero, they are so valuable. Ten months, three years old, eighteen years old, these loved ones are special and we call their names to mind with you. Jonathan, Brian, Evelyn, Andrew, Jackson, Penny, Daisy, Eden.  They existed, they matter, their names hold weight in time and space.


I’m guest-posting today at a writer friend’s site, author Samantha Evans. Sam knows grief. She and her daughters are walking the road of her husband dying of sarcoma in 2019, and Sam offers comfort to moms who have experienced miscarriages in her newly-released book.


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Jennifer speaks often at MOPS/MomsNext groups, at conferences, churches, retreats, camps, home school co-ops and more. She loves getting to know people and making new friends.

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