I did something really stupid today. I totally went off the reservation and ignored the plan. A student wanted to borrow a book I thought I had at school. When I couldn’t find it, I ran home during a break to look for it. Not finding the book on the shelves downstairs, I thought I’d look in some boxes of books in the attic on the off chance I had loaned it to Erin and she left it here. That’s when it happened.
Now, I know that there are many of you who will think this is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard. But, some of you will feel my pain. I can just hear you now, screaming at me telepathically, “Don’t go up the stairs!” It was too soon. The plan was to wait until one day this summer when I was home all alone before I went up the stairs for the first time since Erin moved out. I was going to go through the attic and Erin’s room, cleaning as I went, and reminiscing all I wanted to. I’ve been bracing myself for the tears I know will follow but since I will be alone, I can cry all I want to with no one to see or criticize.
But, today, in my rush to find the book and get back to school, I forgot all that. I forgot the plan and barreled up the stairs as if there was nothing up there I didn’t want to face yet. The moment my foot hit that top stair I knew I had made a mistake. There it was, staring me in the face – proof that my baby doesn’t live with me anymore and she isn’t just away at school. She has really gathered up as much of her stuff as she could put in her car and moved away. While her room isn’t totally stripped, there is enough lonely space up there to make tears well up in my eyes. I forced myself to go on into the attic, look for the book, then to go back to school.
I think what I will think about more than anything else is not what she took, but what she left. There are still movies in her entertainment center. Her desk still holds pens, pencils, flash cards, and various odds and ends that ended up in the drawers. Her jewelry is gone. Her nightstand storage space is empty but for an empty Bath and Body Works bag. Her walls are bare but for her softball state championship picture and the bat with her name on it. There’s an alarm clock she got for high school graduation next to her bed. Her high school sports uniforms are in the closet along with various curlers and hair accessories. There are three dresses in the closet but the shoes are gone. In the attic is a box that she has labeled very carefully so that I don’t give the books inside away. Her toy closet is still pretty full and there are various piles of things all over the floor.
All of these things represent who she was and don’t really fit with who she is. Her childhood and adolescence were left behind in various stages of disarray, carefully sifted through as she searched for the things she wanted to take. Before long I’ll make myself go back up there and finish what she started. I’ll go behind her and straighten up the rooms so they’ll be ready for her when she comes home to visit. I’ll clean up the attic and categorize things into piles to be carefully stored away in plastic boxes. It won’t take long before Erin’s childhood and adolescence will be stacked and labeled in a closet. Her chalkboard wall in the attic will be painted over. The fluorescent striped walls in her bedroom will be toned down a bit and the area upstairs will slowly but surely be transformed into guest space.
I think it’ll be interesting to see just how much of who she was shows up in her new home. The interior designer in her has pretty much a blank canvas to work with in their home in Wisconsin. Since last summer she and TJ have painted at least one bathroom in a color better suited to their tastes and she has ideas for the rest, I’m sure. But when I finally get to go visit, how much of my little girl will I see? Even as I write this, I am looking around my own living room trying to see anything of who I was when John and I married almost 25 years ago. Very, very little. The things that are precious to me now would probably surprise most people. My two most treasured possessions are a glass box shaped like a heart and a china Eeyore. John is responsible for the heart. He gave it to me not long into our relationship back in college. I still think about the way we were then every time I see it. The china Eeyore was a gift from Erin. Of all the residents of the Hundred Acre Woods, Eeyore is my favorite. I just seem to identify with the ever-present cloud and the equally often-misplaced tail. On one of her trips to Disney World that John and I didn’t accompany her, Erin remembered my love for Eeyore. I thought it was so sweet that she remembered a detail about me so small. He now sits on the desk in our office and I think of her and our shared love of all things Pooh every time I see it.
Before she left, I made sure that Erin had at least one thing from home that I knew she wanted but would probably never ask for. I collected Santas. There is one that has sat in a corner of our home, all year round, for most of Erin’s life. She commented once that she would have to hunt for one to put in a corner of her new home. At first the idea of letting that particular Santa go was unthinkable. But, the more I thought about it, the more right it felt for that Santa to go with Erin. When she left I made sure she had it in the back seat of her car. As strange as it may seem, I feel as if she has taken some of our family traditions with her into her new life. With that Santa she also took a little piece of me with her. When she looks at it she will remember - and I hope the memories are all good.
To me the things she carried and the things she left behind tell their own stories. I will write those stories on my heart the next time I venture up the stairs to put away her things.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. 1 Corinthians 13:11
She has put away childish things.