This is probably rude, but I'm kind of in a crisis here. I'm hiding in the bedroom, peeking through the blinds. I should be out there helping, but I can hardly even watch. I can hardly even breathe. Where is this reaction coming from? Tracy is down there with her dad and her mom and my husband, and they're loading the car, carting away piles of junk I cleared out of the basement and the garage. I really should go out and help, but -- oh, my God, there goes the Elmo lawn mower.
Now, that hurts. That hurts. Tracy's father is handling the plastic mower as if it is just some . . . toy. But wait a second here. What about the history? What about the day the physical therapist came to our house to work with my daughter, just a few months after we got her home from the orphanage in China? She had such poor muscle tone. At 14 months, she was surely going to need a lot of help learning to walk. So the therapist was here, and I was filling out the paperwork, Anna beside me balancing herself upright on the plastic lawn mower. She pushed it, and it moved, and so, to her surprise, did she. She could go . . . forward! She began experimenting with mowing forward as I signed on the dotted line, and then suddenly Anna let go of Elmo and calmly walked, clip-clop, clear across the room with no help at all. Mouth agape, the therapist returned to her paperwork. "Well, I've never opened and closed a case on the same day . . ."
And now Elmo is history. And there goes the highchair, too. There goes the bouncy seat and there goes the Fisher-Price swing that once hung from the Norway spruce; back and forth it went, for a whole summer, the only way to get my daughter Sasha down for a nap.
Junk. Junk. All of it, junk! This is what I told myself. When I first got word that Tracy, a friend of a friend, was looking for baby gear, I thought: Oh, good. Now I have a cause. Now I have the motivation to free up some essential storage space. The clearing out felt good. Yank, toss. Yank, toss, wheee! A most gratifying urge to purge took over. And if I edged toward sentimentality at all, it was easy to spin it in the direction of Olivia, a baby in Guatemala waiting to come to her new home in America, to her new mom.
Here was Tracy, the waiting mom in need of baby gear. And here was all this unemployed baby gear in my basement. So, let the baby gear go forth! This is what my sisters did. This is what my friend Chris did. This is what Wendy did. This is what so many people did for me. In fact, most of my junk is someone else's ex-junk. This is the way of baby gear. As I carted out the rocking zebra, and the musical Noah's ark, and the drum you pound to make a little light show and the scooter that holds the ABC blocks, I thought about the ways in which we all just sort of rent this stuff -- highchairs and cribs pass among siblings and cousins and friends. It's the way of the welcome, part of the communal embrace.
The sadness didn't hit me until Tracy got here, and her dad popped open the trunk of the Toyota, and the junk started to disappear. Poof. It seemed impossible. The tray of the highchair, day after day covered in mushed peas, was gone. My sister gave me that highchair. There was a day five years ago when I stood in her driveway, sweating, loading a U-Haul full of her junk. I'm trying to remember if she helped, and if she did whether it was through tears. It never occurred to me that the clearing out would have with it an attendant sadness, a quiet grieving for an irretrievable piece of time. I wonder why my sister didn't just tell me. Or why my other sister didn't tell me when she gave me those car seats with the caked-on goo. Or why Wendy didn't tell me when she gave me all those little shoes. Or, wait a second, I remember one time when Chris came over with yet another bag of clothes her daughter Carmela had outgrown. I remember a look in her eye as I pulled the clothes out with glee. "This is adorable!" I said, about something pink, or green, or blue. And she said, "Oh, Carmela wore that on her first trip to the zoo . . ." I think I may have seen the sadness, just a glimmer. Why didn't she talk about it? Maybe that's part of the embrace: keeping the focus on what's coming, not what's going.
Eventually, I go out to the driveway and help load. "Oh, thank you so much," Tracy says genuinely, and I believe her, but I don't want to get into it.
"Did you bring pictures?" I ask, and soon we are looking at photos of baby Olivia, a girl with dark curls and eyes that go on for miles.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.