Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Closet Full of Memories


A few days ago on the morning of the school year's first snow day, I decided it was time to clean out my daughter’s closet and move out her outgrown 'school clothes' that she'll never wear again. She now wears a uniform which, inexplicably, she loves, and any time I try to get her into one of the gorgeous dresses and sweaters from Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren she begged me to buy, she says, with a hint of exasperation, "Mommy, they're a little babyish. I can't wear them now."

I knew this day would come.

Whittling down her closet to hold only the items she'll wear now proved to be a much more daunting task than I anticipated. I should have known, really. Every year or so when I empty out my own closets which always seem to mysteriously fill up no matter what I do, I find myself awash in memories as I examine the totems of a life's journey. Parting with clothes that represent a particular place and time has always been a bit of a struggle. Usually, when it comes to cleaning out my own closet, those special items get relegated to various spots farther and farther towards the back of my shoe closet. (I told you I had issues.) Sometimes I take them out and toy with the idea of trying them on. I rarely do. I just like knowing they’re there.

When it came to digging into my daughter’s wardrobe, I didn’t expect to be hit with such a wave of emotion. I’ve already stored away the treasured first dress I ever bought for her, which, coincidentally, was purchased on the same day I came home to find the letter from the Chinese government stating we had passed muster and could go forward with our plans to adopt a child. Her first winter coat—pink shearling with felt teddy-bear buttons—is stashed away with the red melton wool dress coat I proudly bought from the late, lamented Best & Co. for her first Christmas. I could never part with those tiny size 12-months Ralph Lauren polo shirts I ordered with her monogram. They are all in a very large keepsake box stored with other talismans from various chapters in my life.

In recent years, I’ve been doing the same thing with her clothes that I’ve done my entire adult life with mine—namely, shuffling them from place to place, not ready to part with them but needing to move them to make room for the new.

I think it was the combination of having to buy my daughter her first bra (which she's been asking for since third grade, but that's another story) and realizing we're in unchartered territory here. No matter that what we wound up buying is nothing more than a half undershirt. ("Mommy, some of the other girls in my class have bras that have a little padding. Can I get one of those?" "No.") It seems like just a minute ago I was sitting in a tiny chair outside the door of her nursery school class waiting to make sure it was okay to leave her on her own with strangers for the first time. She’s not a baby anymore. I know that. She's isn't a toddler and it's only a matter of months before she can call herself a middle schooler. "Time is just going so fast," I said to my husband when we came back from the store. He isn’t exactly the sentimental sort, but I detected a certain wistfulness in his response. “It sure does,” he said quietly as we watched her sprint to her room to try on her bra.

And so, when I was knee-deep in last year’s swimsuits, old Christmas sweaters, and a beautiful white cashmere cardigan I just had to buy for her even though I knew she’d grow out of it in a matter of minutes, I found myself teary-eyed. After putting my daughter in the occasional size 8 sweater that’s more than a bit short in the arms despite my husband’s eye-rolling, I’ve finally come to accept she is not a baby anymore.

I know she’s a young girl now who loves putting on a touch of lip gloss for special occasions and is clamoring for a pair of heels. “I’m tall!” she exclaimed on a recent morning after slipping into a pair of my pumps while examining her reflection in my bedroom mirror. “I want to be your size,” she added. “You have plenty of time. Don’t rush it,” I said to her, silently wishing I could stop—or at least slow—the clock.

My daughter is in the middle of her last year of elementary school so although I might not have a “milestone” event to mark her growing up this year, I have come to realize that every day that passes will not come again. I plan to wring every bit of joy I can from those hours I can spend with her while she still wants to cuddle with me on the couch watching Girl Meets World and share the minutiae of the school day across the dinner table. If I’m lucky, there will never be a closet big enough to hold the memories we share. Tomorrow, we are going to American Girl -- her idea -- to celebrate her eleventh birthday. I think she wants another doll. And we'll be thrilled to get it.

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