Thursday, March 17, 2011

Work: The saddest chore in the house

The first time I had to clean out Big E's drawers, when she was a few months old and too big for her doll-size newborn sleepers and onesies, I balked at deciding what should stay and what I could give away.  Battling through lingering post-partum haze, I squelched the piercing sob that crept up the back of my throat by neatly folding every last tiny sweater and little dress, every stained kimono shirt and mismatched sock and packing them all away in a big plastic tote. 

I planned to use every single item again one day and so through careful folding, packing and labeling, I managed to avoid acknowledging that Big E and I were leaving a place to which we'd never return.  She'd never again be a fuzzy-headed, scrunched-up infant and I --for better or worse-- would never again be an awed and anxiety-ridden, sleep-deprived mother in her first weeks on the job. I was covering my ears and singing I-can't-hear-you-I-can't-hear-you to the ticking of the clock. Even at the time, I sort of knew that.

I had to face the futility of it all when Little E was about 6 months old.  Not only did she have drawers stuffed with outgrown clothes of her own, but in the basement I had a hulking fortress of plastic totes stuffed with hand knit sweaters and ratty burp cloths from Big E's babyhood.  I steeled my nerve and tore through it all in a trance, limiting myself to just a few remaining tubs. 

Afterwards, my husband had to drive with me to the yellow donation bin. I couldn't bring myself to be the one to heft up those bags and drop them away for all eternity.  For months after, my face would get hot and my throat would close up every time I thought about those bags that looked like sacks of trash but were really just the most important few years of my life to that point.

Alas, our house is tiny, the girls' dressers are Ikea flimsy, and I had to do some purging this week.

If it were just fleecy sweatpants and flowered dresses, souvenir t-shirts and adjustable waist blue jeans, I could manage.  I would have no problem passing them on to a friend's daughter, giving them up to a little girls whose parents can't afford footy pajamas, or even (if my father's claims about those donation bins are to be believed) allowing them to be cut into rags and sold by the pound for industrial cleanup.

They're not just clothes.  They are seasons, months, minutes of my girls' childhood that we won't see again. Embedded in their worn cotton knit are all the moments that have passed.

I can almost live with losing the important ones, the first day of school dresses and Christmas pajamas, the ones that got plenty of attention, that have been properly appreciated and photographed.  It's the little moments that are really gone. Little E calling me the mommy dog and she's my puppy curling up next to me in my bed while I try to sneak an afternoon nap --who even remembers what she was wearing, but I'm likely tossing it.

The blown moments that I won't get a re-do on kill me, too.  I don't remember which jeans and t-shirt Big E had on when I snapped at her for asking me what was for dinner --unleashing on her anger likely meant for myself-- but I do wish I could go back and take the deep breath I so sorely needed.  The jeans are gone, along with my chance to get that moment right.

It should be a lesson to me, all this angst over the clothes.  But, of course, I won't remember to cherish every second, to behave myself admirably in every minute.  Even if I did, the clothes would still get outgrown and the time would still pass. 

And I would still mourn the loss.

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