Believe it or not, hoarding comes in pretty handy around high school graduation time.
Over the years, my family has been concerned about my propensity to save everything from hospital bracelets to matchbooks. But I’ve always felt compelled to squirrel things away, like my old Holly Hobby sewing machine, our daughters’ confirmation dresses, my son’s sock puppet, and the collar from our long dead cat Zuzu.
When my son Hayden graduated two years ago, I sent 36 t-shirts I’d been saving since he was a baby — from Montessori preschool to tae kwan do to boy scouts to football to band — to a quilter to make him a one-of-a-kind bedspread for his dorm room that would memorialize his particular childhood experiences. The quilt was such a meaningful graduation gift, I’ve been vindicated.
Turns out, my hoarding actually had a purpose after all.
With our second child, Anna, about to graduate, I recently went down to our basement to find the t-shirts I’d saved for her quilt. However, what should’ve taken ten minutes, took an entire afternoon and a half box of tissues.
The first tub I opened was full of baby items that I hadn’t seen in years. There, in the musty fluorescent corner of our basement, I got lost in memories. I caressed the soft flannel receiving blankets, remembering that she was born while we were stationed in England, in a village hospital by an Irish midwife. Pastel afghans, a tiny gingham dress and Anna’s baptismal cloth took me further away.
The layers were like the rings of a tree. In between were lumps – a special rattle, a tattered pink doll, and a string of wooden beads. My eyes lost focus as I recalled Anna as a sleepy toddler, stroking the beads, over and over.
The next box was full of old toys. I saw the plastic yellow baton, gripped by Anna’s perpetually sticky fingers, relentlessly beating the chubby Fisher Price xylophone. The pink and purple play purse put me in our old house in Virginia, where Anna would strut around with the purse over one arm, stopping to apply the fake lipstick and pose precociously before a mirror.
Pink and yellow plates, cups and pots looked exactly like they did when Anna served up smorgasbords of plastic toy pizza slices, hamburgers, peas, bananas, cupcakes and cheese wedges. “Mmmmm,” I would say, smacking my lips loudly and pretending to chew in hopes of eliciting her brightly dimpled smile.
The doll at the bottom, still stained with an ink scribble in the middle of her forehead, looked serenely relieved to have retired to a cardboard box. Her life with Anna had not been easy. With the doll slumped in an umbrella stroller, Anna would push her around our cul-de-sac, sometimes hitting a crack that would catapult the poor doll head-first into the pavement. A quick kiss on the scuffed head, and Anna was off again.
A file box contained artwork, crafts, and primitive pottery – ancient relics with cracking macaroni and yellowing glue. The items, ironically, gave no indication that Anna would eventually develop a talent for art and design. Small spiral notebooks were scribbled with Anna’s endless ideas, garment sketches, and redecorating plans. “How to make money this summer: 1. Sell my old Barbies; 2. Make lemonade; 3. …” one page read. “Rules for Secret Club House,” another read.
It’s an incredible privilege to watch a human being grow, I thought. Cradling a helpless budding newborn in my arms, I could never predict the distinctive person that would take 18 years to bloom before my very own eyes.
Through the dusty basement air, I finally found the box of t-shirts, and the wonder of our exceptional daughter came into focus. Bossy, stubborn, controlling and pensive. Intelligent, driven, hilarious and creative. With big brown eyes, a sparkling smile, and an uncommon dimpled chin. Determined to become a successful fashion designer.
As I trudged sniffling up our basement stairs, I realized that I didn’t keep all those boxed basement relics for my kids, I kept them so I wouldn’t forget. Regardless, High School Graduation, the monumental milestone that heralds adulthood and independent life, has a way of making the last 18 years unforgettable.
Even if we don’t create quilts or shadow boxes or scrapbooks memorializing our child’s life, graduation has a way of melding past and present together into one great epiphanic flash, imprinting the incredible image of our children’s evolution in our minds … forever.