Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day

I think I took the term Labor Day a little too literally. I am black and blue, my back is sore, and my legs feel like lead. Man, I am old. The reason for all these aches and pains? I went with Marissa on Saturday to do community service at the Leander ASPCA. I thought they would let us walk dogs, clean out pens, and the worst thing might be scooping some poop. No. On the weekends, the community service workers do grounds work. So, it was back breaking labor. I think I already referenced it in my last post, so I won't belabor it further other than to set the stage for Sunday. Already a little worse for wear, the game plan for the day was to finish going through some of the kids' things to pull out what we were keeping and what I would try and sell at a garage sale. Marissa and I had made a stab at it not long after her sister's funeral. We sifted through most of the books I had put up in storage, and some of the stuffed animals, but at some unspoken point we both had as much as we could take and called it a day. Weeks went by and there was still a lot to sift through, including the two heavy duty totes all the way in the corner. Finally, with my new found status, I thought I was strong enough to face those totes.

The totes were two of a series of three that the same friend who told me the story of "two" had given me as a gift when the Steelers made the Championship Game back in 2001 (we would lose to the Patriots). They had gold lids and black bodies, and I decorated one with Steeler stickers and keep all the Steeler magazines and newspapers I gather in it. The other two I split: one for Marissa and one for Kelsey. At the time they were at the stage in their lives where it was time to leave their early childhood behind and move firmly into their teens. In Marissa's case, it was tweens. But, either way, they were ready for their dolls and stuffed animals to be put away and move on to more "grown up" things, like punk posters and skull and cross bone belts with big studs, and black eyeliner. I carefully packed a tote for each girl with the things I thought they would want for their own children some day with the same sort of vague sadness I imagine women all over the world pack away their children's toys. We appreciate that they are growing up, but we miss the wide-eyed innocence of their first years. We yearn for the time when they believed in things like the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus and whatever we said to them, forgetting the tired nights and how we used to wonder if and when we'd ever have a moment to ourselves. I had lovingly packed each tote, loaded them with mothballs and then shoved them into the corner of the landing, stacked their dollhouses on top of them and then never really thought about them again as all the madness of the ensuing years unfolded. That is to say until Marissa and I started to peel away all the remnants of my children's youth to try and lighten my inventory with the eventual goal of selling the house. I knew we were working our way down to those two totes, and I would have to eventually face whatever was in them. I actually had no idea what waited for me there. Too much had happened and too much time had passed. I knew they held a significance and that I had put things in them I didn't want to risk damage to, but beyond that, I had no idea what I would find.

Two little time capsules. Kelsey's was by far the most painful to open up. Aside from the obvious reason, there was more in hers. Marissa is both a sentimentalist and a pack rat (another reason I failed to see I was adopted: she takes after Mother in that regard), so she held onto things from her childhood, mixing them in with whatever was popular at the time. Kelsey was completely the opposite. Whatever phase she was in, she was all in. And, she was three years older. Her childhood was done by the time I packed those totes. And, in full rebellion mode, she was firmly rejecting any reminder of a happier time. But, I was convinced that at some point that would turn around and she would want these things. So, I tucked them away for her whether she wanted me to or not. And, I opened them up on Sunday.

Kelsey's tote, a little snapshot of a little girl long gone, held two pictures that had hung in her nursery, one Mother had sent me and one needlepoint of a dog and cat her Aunt Cathy had given me. And then there was the pink framed angel with "Kelsey" needlepointed on it that her grandmother had made for her. Marissa has one too, but it's always been with her. I had forgotten about Kelsey's. I had forgotten she ever was so innocent and sweet as to have that pink little angel hanging in her room. There was a photo album in there too. It wasn't complete. But, she had pages and pages of pictures of her eighth birthday when we had done a 101 Dalmatians theme. A friend who was artistic had helped me, and we had really spent a lot of time on it. Everything was carefully coordinated, up to and including what we all wore. The entire family was there, even her grandfather Veldman, who was notoriously detached. It was probably the crowning achievement of my parenthood. It all came together. One of her friends from the old neighborhood who attended that party wrote us a sympathy card referencing that party. So, I flipped through the album and looked at all those pictures of my healthy little girl with her shining, happy face and wondered why I couldn't have given her more moments like that?

The rest of both totes was full of American Girl dolls and hand sewn dolls and stuffed animals that Greg's mom made for the girls. I managed to choke back my tears, repack the totes since separating them by daughter no longer matters and pulling out what no longer mattered. What I learned in the process is that I can re-open the original wound.

And then there were the beanie babies. There are hundreds of them. I had literally traveled the width and breadth of the country seeking specific beanie babies for the girls one year as a Christmas gift. In the waning years of the last century both girls were absorbed by the craze. So, I squirreled them away for months and presented each of them with a huge gift bag of matching little stuffed critters. Now I have a huge stack of useless, worthless stuffed animals to dispense with, two of each kind. Mother wanted the purple ones, so as I sorted through them, I came across a pink flamingo and thought, brightly, "Oh, I can give this to Linda." before I remembered that Linda is gone now too. I began to cry. That was just too much. When will all of this be over and the pain be gone? When I see that pink flamingo walk away with someone? When I see that Felicity doll in the hands of some other little girl? Or will I always have moments that sneak up on me at random times, and it doesn't matter what I do to avoid it?

I wiped away my tears after a moment or two and spent the entire day hauling boxes of toys and books down to the garage, then sorting them all out to sell in a couple of weeks. I have sifted through as much of Kelsey's things as I am willing to let see walk off with a total stranger. Marissa has agreed to allow as much of her childhood things be sold as she can, making a strong effort of trying to think about her decisions rationally as opposed to emotionally. All of those trappings of my daughters' youth are now unceremoniously sorted in boxes in the garage waiting dispatch to some other child's house. I feel the weight of their symbolism as I sit here and write. But, in the end, I am not sure saving those trappings of a time gone by would have been wise. They are merely remnants of a life lost, not the life itself. They are not her. So, let them go and bring happiness to some other child for a time, and maybe, if they are lucky, they will make it into a keepsake box that another mother packs with a bittersweet smile, waiting for the time when she can present them to her grandchildren, and they can carry little Kelsey on in that small way. The needlepoint angel remains with me, stowed away for another time.

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