Crawford: It's time to give away tiny toddler clothes, and big tears are falling
It is mid-morning, and I sit cross-legged on the floor of my living room. I’m surrounded by stacks of giant plastic bins, the lids scattered. My black Lab, Merlin, watches me from her perch on a nearby chair, her chin on her paws. My face is buried in my hands, and I am sobbing.
Why? Well, today I decided I’d pull my daughters’ baby clothes down from the attic, go through them, and finally give them away.
I say “baby clothes,” but really, it’s the toddler clothes that have done me in. In particular, one outfit: a matching set of shorts and top, pale blue, decorated with tiny cupcakes, sized 12 to 18 months.
My daughters are 8 and 5 years old. The outfit was worn by both, but I’d bought it for my older daughter to wear on her first birthday. There’s nothing special about it: It’s made of simple knit, bought from a store that also sells groceries and garden supplies. And it’s not that I have specific memories of my girls wearing the outfit — though I can see them in it, their thighs chubby and their cheeks pink. I can hear them squeal in delight, watch the ruffles on the backside of the shorts flutter as they toddle away.
The writer Robert Brault once said, “When you have brought up kids, there are memories you store directly in your tear ducts.”
I’ve given away my girls’ clothes before. I gave two huge bins of first-year clothes to my sister, after my niece was born. Though the folding and re-stacking of those clothes gave me a pang and made me smile, I didn’t cry then. I’m not exactly sure why I’m crying now — but boy, am I.
Maybe I didn’t cry before because the clothes were going to my sweet new niece, my beloved sister’s daughter. Maybe it was because the clothes represented the very first days and weeks of my daughters’ lives, and those feel farther away.
Perhaps it’s because my 8-year-old — whose dimples pop when she grins — told me recently that she doesn’t want to smile in photographs, because she doesn’t like her crooked teeth. Or because my 5-year-old, with whom I share a picnic lunch of tuna fish and pickles each weekday, will graduate from preschool next week.
The writer and painter Malcolm de Chazal once said that, “… childhood chews hours and swallows minutes.” As I sit on my sisal rug, most certainly full of dog hair and stained by the very children whose toddlerhood I am mourning, I know Chazal is right.
It is mourning, you know. I grieve the new awareness in my daughters’ blue eyes, the lengthening of their coltish legs. I hold tiny, rainbow-colored sneakers in my hands and wonder how it went by so fast. Did I pay attention? Did I know the miracle as it happened?
Brault also said that, “Parenting is a stage of life’s journey where the milestones come about every 50 feet.” My children are still young, and I imagine I have a million moments left to grieve and celebrate. But there is something of infinite magic about those toddler years, when our children are soft. When they are still becoming.
Charles Dickens, in his novel “The Old Curiosity Shop,” wrote, “I love these little people; and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.”
I can do this. I can give away these tiny clothes. They’re not helping anyone by sitting in my attic, and another child could use them. Another child deserves sweet, milky dreams while wearing the yellow chickadee footy pajamas. Splashing in cool creeks under a canopy of lush green trees in the tiny hiking shoes. Wearing the hand-knit toboggan and lifting a red-cheeked face to the flakes of a first snow.
Oh, heaven help me. I’m crying again.
I know my babies will always be my babies. For now, though, I think I’ll sit here among these clothes a little while longer.
I’ll take heart in the words of Toni Morrison. In her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Beloved,” she wrote: “Grown don’t mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown? What’s that suppose to mean? In my heart, it don’t mean a thing.”
Katherine Scott Crawford is a historical novelist, teacher, hiker and mom who lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Contact her at email@example.com.