It started out as a summer closet-cleaning project, as it does every year. What differentiates this year from the last seven is that I am actually doing it. I started cleaning out our closet several days ago and I haven’t stopped. Among some if the items found are: bags, shoes, books, sweaters, children’s toys, my own stuffed animals. The closet is very crowded with boxes upon boxes of paper and old clothing and photographs, about fifty books, drivel in adolescence journals and every memento since I was a teenager.
I bought new bright aqua hangers at Target feeling confident and ambitious. Only minutes after my mug of espresso I was ready to start. I cleaned for hours as music blared from my computer: The Beatles and Glee, America and Bruce Springsteen, I revisited Natalie Merchant, The Beach Boys and songs from Grey’s Anatomy. I sang as loud as possible, off-key. I found cookbooks, a dozen notebooks, and old, scratched CD’s. I made a pile to give away perfectly fine clothing that fit my far younger self. Clothes, past their expiration date by twenty years, as I looked down at my larger body. I sighed as I stuffed them into black garbage bags shaking my guilty, downtrodden head. I tried to soothe myself by saying they will go to people who have nothing, but I don’t deep down, forgive my slovenly self.
I was enjoying putting some order into chaos carrying out box after box of stuff I hadn’t seen or used in years. It felt really good to finally attack at least ten to twenty years worth of stuff. That is, until I found “Baby.”Baby was my son’s love object when he was very little. I remember we flew to Oregon for a vacation with our six month year old son, the Buddha Child. This was a boy who fell asleep in a second. One day, while we were in Oregon we put him in his car seat and he cried and wouldn’t be soothed. The child who fell asleep immediately in any car ride fussed and could not sleep and we had no idea why. As new parents do, we thought ear infection? He looked fine albeit cranky but he didn’t look sick.
All of a sudden as if I had just discovered the new 500 million dollar invention, an idea popped into my head? Baby? I made my husband pull off the side of the road and he searched for Baby; Baby was found in the trunk. Baby was given to our son as we watched in wonder. He clutched Baby in one hand, my son’s thumb slid smoothly in his mouth and he fell asleep immediately. We hadn’t known Baby was that important until that moment. When Baby needed surgery, he was not allowed to be fixed by my mother-in-law, an expert seamstress. Only I was allowed to fix Baby; to me, it was a proud moment.
When I found Original Baby and Substitute Baby today scrunched in the back of my closet I gasped and exclaimed “Baby!!” Then I burst into tears. I thought I had worked through the anticipated separation from my first-born son going to college in three and a half weeks, apparently I wasn’t done. Holding Baby in my arms, clutched to my heart, I sobbed.
When you clean out old things, you find emotional reminders of the past. I found letters from my dad who died ten years ago, it makes you more aware of what you are missing; it brings up sadness, longing, for things that will never again be the same.
I’ve decided to put away all the not-so-gentle reminders of my children’s younger lives into boxes. It’s time. My father’s shirt and his letters will get another box and it will also live in the basement. I don’t want to bump into Baby or Dolly or the cards that they made for me and cry. As my son and daughter move on, so must I.
The sad part of seeing Baby was that I thought, I have only one more year with my daughter staying home. My life as being their mother will never be the same. What on earth am I going to do now? Sobbing answered that question quickly and then I normalized. I will always be their mother, I will always be my father’s little girl but relationships shift and change. It was time for all of us, including Baby and his friends, to move to a different place. When my son and daughter want to look for memories of their past they will know where to look and that’s how it should be. Life moves on and I with it. Starting from the inside, then moving out.