This weekend as I worked at emptying my garage, containing the accumulation of 40 years of life in this home, I had some wonderings about the process we parents are so obsessed with — that is preserving every stuffed animal, math paper, and trophy our children accumulate throughout the years of their childhood. Oh, and did I mention baby blankets?
The good news is, the garage is now empty as construction is finally about to begin on my house, the victim of a house fire more than eight months ago. The bad news was facing all of those mysterious boxes of childhood mementos among the piles of bins and boxes.
As my three daughters headed off to college one by one, the memories of their years remained at home, safely tucked away. In the post-college years of living in tiny apartments, then gradually in small first-year-of-marriage cottages, there was not room for pieces of their childhood. So they remained at home base, temporarily forgotten.
Now that they are having children of their own, they are not so eager to “reclaim their childhood”, all neatly packed in boxes. Any available space my daughters have is being filled with necessary baby accouterments, and meanwhile their own babyhoods are in the distant past — and still residing in my garage — until last weekend.
I asked my oldest daughter, the organized one who likes to purge, to come help with the garage project. As we began, she was dismayed to discover several boxes that belonged to her. She took one glance at the box of trophies and threw them in the trash pile without close examination. So much for 25 years of storage provision, I mused.
A discussion ensued about this process that parents go through to preserve these bits and pieces of their child’s life. My daughter began reconsidering how much she would save of her own children’s things (as she sat on the driveway sorting endlessly.) I couldn’t help but wonder if this accumulation of childhood treasures had been mostly for my own benefit, rather than that of my three daughters.
Most parents go through some sadness as their children complete each precious and unique stage of life, and move onto the next.
Perhaps we think unconsciously that if we fill enough memento boxes, we can somehow hold onto the essence of our children.
As we are busy saving and cataloging their stuff, our children move forward as if on a conveyor belt, from babyhood to elementary and middle school.
We fill scrapbooks with their paintings from kindergarten, “outstanding student” awards, handwriting samples, and make Photoshop books of every event they participate in.
In high school, every choral program, theater production, sporting event, academic achievement and newspaper clipping is saved. By now, trophies have completely taken over bedroom shelves and dressers.
Then children leave for college.
Now parents must be the caretakers of the sacred memory boxes, as children move on with their lives, and further away from their childhoods.
So what is the point of all this? Do we save for our children, or for ourselves? A little of both perhaps. The process of nurturing children into adulthood is indeed, a sacred journey, and one to be honored through memories. Parents hold onto keepsakes to remind themselves, and their children as well, that these were golden years, never to be forgotten.
Memory-keeping is certainly an important responsibility of parents, a process of recognizing the value of family and of the healthy growth of children. Memories warm our hearts with remembering, and make the inevitable letting go of our children somewhat bearable.
So my advice is to continue saving those treasures, but do it in a balanced manner that preserves and reminds but does not burden either yourself, or eventually, your children.
The delicate, miniature china tea set that my mom saved for me, the wooden high chair I used as a baby, and my favorite childhood books, are all things I treasure, and enjoy using with my grandchildren. I’m glad they were in my memento boxes that were moved through the years from small nests to larger ones, and now serve as reminders of my own sacred childhood — and of parents who loved me wholeheartedly.
1. At the end of each school year, choose only a few favorite items to save.
2. At the end of elementary school and middle school, go through these with your child to see what is meaningful to them.
3. Keep assessing and eliminating over time.
4. Between high school and college, ask your teen to go through her memory boxes and limit what she saves to two or three plastic bins (or for whatever amount you have room.)
5. Pictures are worth a thousand words (or items), and do not take up as much room.
6. Put your energy into being really present with your child as you both experience these golden, fleeting years.