Knee Deep in Memories

I was sweeping up debris in the driveway last Saturday when my daughter, Belle, came up out of our trash can. She said, “Mama!” and gave me a look that absolutely blistered me.
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I was sweeping up debris in the driveway last Saturday when my daughter, Belle, came up out of our trash can. She said, “Mama!” and gave me a look that absolutely blistered me.

All right — before I tell you why she was mad, yes, I should explain why she was in the trash can. First of all it was our recycling bin, which is a large blue plastic receptacle with a lid, provided by the city for paper and plastic garbage that can be recycled. It’s fairly clean, and Belle had a reason for getting inside it because she needed a good place to hide from her brother, Joe.

Here’s what made her mad, though. Once she got down in there she found, among the discarded newspapers, catalogs, and magazines, a picture she’d drawn and colored for me showing an “Indian” catching stars from the sky. She’d done a beautiful job depicting this little tableau, and furthermore it was a great idea for a picture. It was sweet, too: she’d written “To Mama” on it and presented it to me as a gift, several weeks before. I’d been thrilled with it and had let her know that, and I’d put it right on the bedside table within my easy reach.

But now, there it was, in the trash. Just thrown away with the other garbage! Cast off with yesterday’s news! Headed for the recycling plant to be ground into pulp! No wonder she was ticked off.

And how could I explain myself? I’m telling you I felt horrible. I hadn’t wanted to hurt her feelings, and knew I had. I’d really loved the picture, too — although I knew it would hardly be convincing for me to say so once Belle found it in the garbage.

And there’s no reason why I threw away that particular item; it’s just that I can’t keep everything. I can’t hang on to every wonderful painting my kids do in school — although as their entirely unobjective mother I think they’re all wonderful — because they’ve each done hundreds of them. I don’t have a place to store every item they make out of clay, or Plaster of Paris, or toilet-paper rolls. I can’t even keep every present they make for me for Mother’s Day! Last year Joe made a hat out of newspapers for Mother’s Day and it was so large I couldn’t actually fit my head in the car while wearing it.

I’m sorry, I just have to throw some of these momentos away, and since my kids are now six and eight, the truth is that I’ve thrown a boatload of them away already. I’d just never been caught until last Saturday.

So I did my best to explain to Belle that, although I’d kept quite a few of the pieces of artwork she’d generated in her short eight years, I’d also had to throw some in the garbage. Not because I didn’t care for them, but because we would simply run out of room. I took her in the house and showed her that in the big chest of drawers in our entry hall there were already two large drawers stuffed with school artwork — all of it generated before third grade! I think that helped some. It was a distraction, at least.

The storage problem isn’t the entire issue, though. The other thing is that it’s just too difficult to know at the time what’s going to end up being special in retrospect. For some reason I have never forgotten that Belle, when she was little, said “banket” instead of “blanket,” and I can remember the way she said it in her little two-year old voice, and just thinking about it endears me to her so much that I nearly come to tears. But at the time she was using that non-word, it was only one of many and I can’t tell you why it, more than the others, has stuck with me. If I’d known at the time perhaps I would have made sure to get it on video.

But even though I didn’t “save” that experience, I still remember it, so I believe you can have cherished memories without saving everything. Actually, I think you’d have wonderful memories of raising your children even if you didn’t save anything. The things you throw away can still be precious to you, anyway; just because you didn’t keep something doesn’t mean you didn’t love it.

You just have to keep your kids out of the garbage cans, that’s all.

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