Aline Weiller writes:“Should I throw these out?” I said, sitting pony-tailed in black yoga pants, amid piles of clutter from my son’s now empty desk.
“Yes,” Danielle said, referring to a batch of dusty birthday cards given to my teenager, Grant, on his 3rd birthday.
I was in the throes of packing up a home we’d lived in for a dozen years with our two boys.
Our new house is in the same town, only 7.2 minutes away according to the stopwatch on my younger son, Cameron’s, iPhone. Even so, the mere thought of packing or purging our wealth of belongings was overwhelming. I had to enlist Danielle, our former babysitter and organization enthusiast, for much-needed assistance. She’d babysat my boys since they were toddlers and knew their allergies, sports schedules and favorite shows. She’d been my right hand for years and was akin to a younger sister; I trusted her.
We started with the closets, eight of them to be exact. Danielle and I emptied the contents and rifled through remnants of my sons’ childhoods. How do you decide which infant sailor suit to keep? Or which little league trophy or goody bag gadget to toss? Or whether or not to hermetically seal outfits worn for milestone occasions? Where is the What to Expect book for that sort of thing? I was ill-prepared for the multitude of split-decisions necessary for this tedious undertaking.
Danielle was my Switzerland, a neutral party who could make such choices when I got caught up in nostalgia. She created three piles – Keep, Good Will and Garbage. My job was to stay focused and on task, which was harder than it sounds. A tiny hand print from my children’s preschool days would leave me in a 20-minute proud mommy stupor.
The kids couldn’t be around for the downsizing process; they were not equipped for the heartache. My boys questioned our piles and fought to keep tangled yo-yos and toys surviving on corroded batteries. I caved when they pleaded to hold fast to their Star Wars light sabers — though now 13 and 16, they want to keep their Jedi options open. And then there were the costumes — a mummy, Batman and a little ninja number. Some were stained, others still sealed in their orignal packaging. Cameron was notorious for changing his mind after seeing a more enticing superhero body suit. They no longer dress up, but kept costumes they argued still fit.
Danielle and I diligently added to the piles, but each choice left me feeling guilty, as if I were abandoning a piece of family history for the garbage man or a Good Will patron to scoop up. It was akin to a stage of grief — bargaining, perhaps, with a running internal debate clouding my judgement. The moving process was an extreme exercise in letting go of what had been.
After two weeks, the closets were complete. Next, we tackled the basement, full of more kid stuff as well as random items accumulated during twenty-two years of marriage. It was a bear. We began with stacked containers of baby, toddler and maternity clothes I didn’t realize I still had. Perhaps I’d held on to them with hopes of a third child.
Next up was memorabilia, a tough category for sappy me; it was my turn to part with the past. I simply couldn’t toss my middle school scrapbook — Switzerland or not, Danielle could not penetrate my force field of resistance. Nor could I bid good-bye to my weathered concert programs, fuzzy varsity letters or silky graduation tassels. They were an extension of me, a reflection of where I’d been. My forty-something years lay before me, having been hidden from view for some time.
Abandoning those belongings, seemed like erasing my youth; like I, too, would vanish if they were discarded. I saved more than I should have, but rationalized those items evidenced my very existence.
Danielle and I kept a steady pace, until I stumbled upon my late father’s yearbook. We shared both a college and a face. My mother gave me the yearbook slightly after his sudden heart attack and death fifteen years back. I had stored it safely so as not to relive his passing. I stopped packing and paged through it with newfound vigor. A slight musty smell emerged as I perused the black and white heirloom from 1960. Tears blurred my father’s senior picture as I read about his activities and honors. His yearbook transcended the typical keepsake, it was part of my father, a piece of his legacy. This time, it would be kept within reach at our new home, sustaining our connection. I needed my father to live on through that yearbook for me, for my children.
Moving Day arrived and I stayed at our old house, while my husband directed traffic at the new abode. I thought packing had been a challenge. The movers arrived at 7:00 am, but I wasn’t prepared to say good-bye to our life on that quiet, wooded cul-de-sac. My boys had arrived in diapers and left in boxers. My husband had changed jobs three times. I had morphed from stay-at-home mom to business owner. And our four-bedroom colonial beared witness to it all.
I asked the movers to leave a brown leather couch until the bitter end, so I’d have a place to rest amid the last-minute packing. It was worn and oversized, situated in our family room, where our boys had stretched out for movies and naps. It was the room’s lone survivor, but for gold chenille curtains hanging half-closed behind me. I ate leftovers on a Spiderman paper plate I’d scavenged from the far end of a kitchen cabinet, while scenes from our days there washed over me. I saw card tables pieced together in our den for pizza after laser tag birthday parties, I saw my boys’ faces in our living room the
Christmas they got the sought-after, XBox 360. I saw myself among young mothers and toddlers in our playroom, and my husband chopping garlic in the kitchen. In rooms void of belongings, I saw in techno-color the very details our family’s journey.
The following day, I returned to the old house to leave the key for the family who would inhabit the space I still called home. I felt tethered to the place we had painted and renovated, where we had lived and loved. I opened the mail box and retrieved a stack of mail, only to find it was addressed to the new owners. Then smiled, nodded silently and drove 7.2 minutes into our future.
Aline Weiller is a journalist and essayist who has been published in print and online to include Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers, Great Moments in Parenting, Scary Mommy and Books, Ink, among others. She is also the CEO of Wordsmith, LLC, a public relations firmed based in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and two sons.