We got home Sunday night at a quarter past eight. Immediately and silently we stripped two tired, wired boys out of dirty play clothes and poured them into pajamas (and into a clean t-shirt, because our youngest won’t actually wear pajamas). My husband brushed teeth while I read a few quick books. Having spent the past several hours playing outdoors, our oldest tossed back two glasses of water like I used to drink shots of tequila (salt, please). Our youngest snuggled with two identical stuffed elephants and a purple sofa pillow before hugging me good night.
The bedtime routine was smooth, expedient and effective.
Sigh of relief. It’s so great when both parents are on the exact same page.
We had been working hard since daybreak, packing and sorting and tossing. Seven years ago we became home owners. We moved in with minimal furniture, a few suitcases, and a puppy. Today we have more furniture, clothing for all sizes and seasons, a bed for an 84-lb Labrador retriever, and endless boxes of toys, books and tools. It’s been a satisfying process to toss and gift gently used clothing, toys and stuff over the past few weeks. It’s also been a bit of a shock to witness the depth of stuff purchased in ever greater amounts in order to fulfill the life that we seem to want.
Once upon a time we slept in a lightweight, two-person tent engineered for backpacking. I remember sleeping over at my then-boyfriend’s place early on in our relationship. He had a wooden-frame bed that he’d built himself and a hard, slim mattress. On the bed were no sheets or blankets; an all-weather sleeping bag served us well. He boiled me some yucca for dinner that night and we shared a large bottle of Presidente (la mejor cerveza, el verdadero sabor). A latrine stood a few steps outside the house beside a garden full of greens. We walked to a freshwater swimming hole a mile down the road and sunbathed on rocks. I rarely wore sunscreen. We washed clothes in a bucket and hung them to dry. We spent all our money before payday, but we didn’t want for much.
Fast forward to car camping x 4 people in the present moment:
Huge family tent, check. A couple of camp chairs. Cooler. Various rugs and blankets. Kayak. Life jackets. Infinite number of t-shirts, shorts, socks and PJs. Camp stove + dishes, etc. Target bags full of snacks. Bikes. Helmets. Towels. Goggles. SPF 50 +. Wipes. Raingear. Camera. More wipes. Praise be that diapers are no longer necessary.
And that’s just the stuff you can see. If this was a post about camping, I’d also mention the sticky-from-burnt-marshmallow-fingers, big smiles, dirty feet, digging-stick-silly-ness, and the magic of sinking into camp chairs before the glow of a fire once one’s children are passed out in the tent.
WE HAVE SO MUCH STUFF.
It’s crazy-making, all of our stuff, and honestly, we are probably on the lower end of the gear-and-stuff people. We aren’t minimalists (we are parents, you know), but we don’t buy everything out there in order to play. Still, preparing for a possible move has brought out an intentional thought process as to what we need and what we don’t. Room by room, we’ve divided stuff into piles: Goodwill, Consignment, Keep, and Save.
The “Save” pile is my own special indulgence — stuff that isn’t truly necessary, but stuff I can’t trash.
Today I found a dozen letters that my sister Liz wrote to me while I was in the Peace Corps. I found a dusty old jewelry box in which I tucked a silver armadillo many years ago. It reminds me to believe in myself, so I can’t get rid of it. I found notes scribbled in middle school, folded into triangles and hard as rocks. Soccer team photos, smiling girls dressed in green and gold. A book filled with stamps in alphabetical order by country. Lessons in Spanish from my father. You can imagine that going through this stuff doesn’t exactly mean speedy packing, but I’ve still accomplished a great deal.
I’m not a true pack rat. Throwing away albums of photos and memories from years that I didn’t really enjoy felt great. I finally tossed a bunch of memorabilia from a time when I pretended to part of a group that didn’t really resonate with me. I went a little crazy, tossing the uncherished and the dusty and the ick. Yes, those memories are a part of me. It doesn’t mean I have to keep them close.
Memories are important. As I moved through our space, I acknowledged the sacred role that a pacifier played at one time in our lives. I had a hard time tossing the teething rings, but it was easy to pack the infant toys/rings/balls into a box that I hope some other child will enjoy. I kept my most favorite, teensy onesies worn by both my boys, but I filled a huge box of hand-me-downs for my delightful nephew to wear. My mother gave me special pieces from my childhood – books and clothing – and I look forward to sharing these special items with my sons when they are grown.
Memories are a gift. I’ve only realized this recently, and from a distance, as the memories of my grandfather have disappeared over time. My understanding is that the information he receives from the outside world reaches his senses but somehow gets loss in the memory or storage stage. And if he can’t store them, he cannot retrieve them. This makes me sad.
I’m going to visit my grandfather soon. I hope he will look in my eyes and know who I am. But if he does not, I will still know who he is and remind him of his relationship to me. You see, I know him from forever. I know the look in his eye when he is teasing you and when he is dearly happy to have you with him. The last time we were together, he kept looking at me and knowing me and asking me, “Are these your boys? Are you the mom?” because my sons, ages 5 and 2, were running around, and he had only seen me with children once before.
He wasn’t being critical. He was confused, but he was happy. He loves babies and children. My youngest tried to run away with his cane and he scolded him lightly. Today when my oldest son sees an older person at the park, he always asks me about his “great great great” grandfather. A few days ago he asked me what it’s like to be old. I told him I’m not quite sure yet, because I am only as old as I am. He shook his head, and said, Silly Mama.
I don’t have all the answers, I explained.
As I moved through the house sorting and packing and tossing, memories surfaced that brought a smile and a tear. I am eager to see my grandfather and make a new memory by holding his hand and sharing a space together. This is the real stuff, the stuff that makes up our lives, not the infinite number of Legos that are designed to disable their enemies (me, my husband, guests) by way of devastating foot pain when one steps on them in the middle of the night. The use of Legos as a weapon may be controversial yet undeniably deadly. I hope the Tea Party Patriots don’t find out.
The real stuff is what makes life beautiful. Tonight I feel a bit sappy and sort of uncomfortable as we say good bye to stuff we don’t need and look forward to a cleaner, brighter future. I am looking forward to tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and the day after that. It feels good.
Be well, readers.