Did you know that the caboose was often the observation point on the train? The engine was in front, providing the power and determining the direction, but, it was the roof of the caboose where men would position themselves for a good vantage point to look down the tracks and watch for trouble. Did you also know that due to modern technology that the caboose has been determined unnecessary? Well, trains may not need their cabooses like they once did, but, families still benefit from a good caboose.
When our seven were younger and we would venture out, I had to teach them to stay in a straight line lest we clogged up entire aisles at the stores or blocked entire sections of sidewalks. Plus, I will admit it, I liked my little ducks all in a row. I didn’t want to lose anyone in a crowd, after all. Once you have more kids than you do hands, you have to be creative. So, as long as Henry, my husband, was with us, I’d find myself often saying, “Behind Daddy and in front of Momma.” I felt most comfortable right there in that vantage point. Henry could plow ahead making a path in the crowds and leading the way. I could watch carefully that no one wandered off or got turned in the wrong direction. I could also, like the train riders of old, keep an eye out for any possible trouble.
Oddly, every test I take about such things, says I’m a leader. I know they are right as I am often leading small groups or women’s ministries or family meetings or Bible studies. Leading comes natural to me. So why would I feel so comfortable as a caboose? I think that it belies my trust in Henry for one thing. He isn’t going to lead us astray. He is good with directions and can stay focused on the goal of getting us where we are going. Parenting isn’t after all a competition where we are vying for position in our children’s lives. Parenting, at it’s best is a team effort where strengths are celebrated and strategies are developed to work together and be made better for it.
If a child stumbled or lagged behind or became distracted, I was aware of it and that’s what I wanted. I could offer a little assistance and gentle guidance when necessary or sound the alarm if I needed to. The thing is, as seasons change and children grow, it isn’t so easy maintaining that position of momma caboose. Every once in a while we, as a family approach a crossroads and sometimes one of us veers off the track and goes their own direction for a while. It’s not always a good choice, not always a wise decision, not always what I had hoped they would do. Sometimes our heart is heavy as we consider the consequences before them.
It is so tempting as a momma caboose to panic. After all, we might reason, how can we help them when they are so determined to head in the wrong direction? What if they have a train wreck on the track and get stuck there? What if they get so far away I can’t even see them from the roof of the caboose? What then? But, after a while you learn not to panic as quickly and assume the worst. After a while you relax the tiniest bit and wish them a grand adventure while your attend to your own. After a while, you realize that a temporary redirection is usually exactly that, temporary. After a while you anticipate those moments of traveling side by side, heading the same direction, but by different routes. After a while you come to expect those moments when you step back and let them step back in, reconnect to the strength of their daddy and rest under the watchful eyes of their momma caboose. We are still a family, after all, and always will be.
When we accept that no matter how hard we’ve worked to give them direction and wisdom and a good start, they must make their own way and find their own paths, it takes the pressure off and keeps our relationships from being strained and sometimes broken. Trains after all were designed to add and release cars as needed. They are flexible like that and we should be the same.
When you spend a couple of decades being a caboose you develop certain routines and perspectives that assist you in your endeavor of bringing up the rear. Some days I feel as if my position as momma caboose is more taxing than ever before. I strain my eyes watching for predators of all sorts. They come in from so many directions after all. Modern technology may have done away with train cabooses but, modern technology like Internet and social media and smart phones with stupid apps have made the caboose even more necessary for families. But, then there are the other days. Those are the days that I climb up on that roof of the caboose and enjoy the ride for a while. I gaze upon the future with confidence and hope. I stretch out and stare at the stars realizing I’ve done my best and will trust God with the rest. I contemplate the journey ahead and wonder what we will discover over the next mountain. That’s an advantage of bring a Momma Caboose.