At the age of four years, three months, and ten days, my son Jackson finally got to ride in a forward-facing car seat.

I’ve been a long-time and vocal proponent of extended rear-facing for kids in cars. Well before the American Academy of Pediatrics changed its guidelines in 2011 to recommend that kids rear-face until age two at a minimum and preferably as long as the car seat’s height and weight limits will allow, I was already researching how to keep my first child rear-facing as long as possible. I’d even explored the possibility of getting a car seat from Sweden, where kids routinely rear-face up to ages five and six.

Hudson was still rear-facing when she died at the age of 17 months from a sudden infection. A Swedish car seat wouldn’t have saved her from that even if I’d had one.

But Jackson faced backward well into his fifth year. I regularly shared photos of him hanging out quite comfortably in his rear-facing seat, just to show that extended rear-facing is a viable option. His old seat would have allowed him to grow about another inch and several more pounds before I’d have to turn him forward, but I’d read that it was perhaps not the best long-term option for forward-facing modes. And when a woman in an SUV rear-ended us, we had an unexpected opportunity to replace his seat on her insurance company’s dime. Jackson was so close to the rear-facing limit anyway that I ultimately decided to get a dedicated forward-facing seat that has the highest height and weight limits on the market for both harness and booster mode. I sacrificed a few more months of enhanced safety for him in rear-facing mode (let’s face it—we’d all be safer if we could ride rear-facing all the time, but that’s just not practical) for the promise of longer-term enhanced safety for him in forward-facing mode.

But still. I wasn’t ready. I thought he’d be rear-facing for at least another few months. I hadn’t expected to take him to preschool this morning rear-facing and bring him home in the afternoon forward-facing. I took his picture after I buckled him in and was astonished at how grown he looked—long legs dangling over the edge of the seat rather than crossed and bunched up in front of him, his back straight and upright rather than relaxed and reclined, his expression revealing that he might finally be mastering the art of smiling for the camera rather than just haphazardly yelling “Cheese!”

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I wasn’t ready.

Jackson, of course, was thrilled. He’d never complained about riding backwards, but he immediately welcomed the thrilling new experience of watching the world go by from the front. As soon as we pulled out of the preschool parking lot, he said, “This is so much more funner! I can see all out of the
windows!” He also wasted no time in becoming a backseat driver—as we approached the very first intersection he’d ever seen through the front window of the car, he yelled, “Stop, Mommy! Red light!” And it took only minutes for him to realize he could lord this new privilege over his two-year-old sister, saying, “You still have to look out the back because it’s safer for little babies to ride backwards. You won’t get to ride like me for a looooonnnng time!”

As I navigated the eleven miles of winding country roads between the preschool and our house, occasionally stopping to interject something into the heated conversation in the backseat about whose view was better, I found myself thinking back to the early days and months just after Hudson died. I thought about all of the decisions I confronted almost daily, it seemed. Whether to get out of bed again. Whether to leave the house. Whether to go back to work. Whether to accept a friend’s invitation to lunch. Whether to get pregnant again. Whether to tell the truth when someone asked how many children I had.

I wasn’t ready. For any of it. For the decreased safety. For the growing up. For the unknown. But I couldn’t escape the inevitable. I could only postpone it so long.

I didn’t realize that I was learning lessons that I’d need daily for the rest of my life, particularly as a mother. Hudson’s spirit seems always at work.

I wasn’t ready—I would never be ready—but at last, there was no other choice but to let go and move ahead.

Facing forward.