Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Are You a Parental Packrat?

My family accuses me of being a parental packrat. My children are now in their teens and have recently become aware of my stash of memorabilia from their earlier years. I caught them going through the large plastic bins the other day! There they stand in my basement: giant plastic bins with snap tops labeled neatly with each child's name. The oldest daughter has several, the middle daughter has three, and the youngest has two.

"What's in these?" pondered daughter number three.

"Those are mom's things," replied eldest daughter. "She keeps stuff in there from when we were little."

Gleefully, I heard the middle child chime in: "Let's take a look!" and they fell to, happily unpacking all of the memories that I've managed to squirrel away for the past eighteen years or so. They spent several hours going through the treasures in those boxes, and even found a few things that they had thought gone for forever. One daughter found the remnants of her favorite blankie and another exclaimed over a board book that had been tucked away in her box. "Mom! Why did you put my book in here?"

I answered, "You said you were done with it and wanted to give it away. I know that one was special to you, so I saved it." She grinned from ear to ear.

"Can I have it back??" Now, there's a quandary! I had always planned to give these things to their rightful owners when they were "old enough to appreciate them." I'm not sure that time is here yet at age sixteen. We agreed on a loan from the treasure box, to be returned in a day or two before the book was found lying on the floor forgotten in the rush to answer the telephone call from the boyfriend. No, they're not quite old enough yet.

Those boxes of treasures *will* become very important someday, though, I'm sure. The things I've saved freeze moments in time. The first pictures drawn, the first attempts at writing a name, silverware used by toddler hands, and favorite toys have all found their way into the boxes. There are T-shirts lovingly decorated by Grandma, stuffed animals, and yearbooks from early elementary school. All of these things together paint a picture of the young child that no longer exists except in our memories. Put them together with the baby books in which their father and I noted observations about their lives and you have a nice history of the things that they cannot recall on their own. Someday, when they are grown and on their own with new young families, they will skip down memory lane with these boxes. Each carefully stored item will hopefully bring "ooh's" and "aaah's" reminiscent of a fireworks display.

They accuse me of being a packrat now, but just wait! I firmly believe that they will end up treasuring each and every item in their boxes. I know this because it's hereditary! My mom presented me with a box, as well, the Christmas before my first daughter was born. I remember the fun of going through there and finding toys that I hadn't thought of in years, old report cards, and books I had loved.

You may want to consider starting a similar project in your home. These memories and connections to the past are very important in my life, and I suspect in nearly everyone's. We all long for a sense of history and a feeling of belonging. Eventually, the girls' boxes of memories will include a few of the things that my mom passed on to me. Those boxes of stuff will have a history stretching back to well before their births. My hope is that they will take the hint and save things for their children, as well. After all, it's a family tradition!

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