A synonym for parent is hoarder. Yes, you. You are a hoarder. You are hoarding tattered, soiled and busted bookmarks from your children’s lives. There is the Little People Happy Sounds home on the shelf of your garage. You foreclosed on that rundown, non-biodegradable plastic domicile years ago, after your daughter graduated to Monster High. Yet there it is, in the garage. We’ll keep it for the younger cousins to play with, you tell yourself.
And that’s just one item. The bottom of the linen closet, the wooden chest in the living room, the nook next to the washing machine, all filled with collectibles from your favorite movie ever, although it's one you cannot rewind and replay.
I am not terribly sentimental about stuff. My wife Brandy and I regularly purge the old to make room for the new. (Lego Ninjago Epic Battle Dragon in, Thomas and Friends Isle of Sodor railway set out.) But last weekend, I opened a kitchen cabinet to grab a plate and something caught my eye: A baby spoon. A rubber and metal spoon resting in a pint glass alongside several other tiny utensils. We’ll keep it for the younger cousins to eat with, we tell ourselves.
But that’s not true. We keep them because we cannot get rid of them. That pint glass has been sitting there for years, since our youngest son used them to eat vanilla YoBaby. Today, our sons Jackson and Tanner are 8 and 6, respectively. They take their own showers, and grab the gallon of milk from the refrigerator to fill their own glasses. But the utensils remain. There’s also a high chair in the garage, and burp clothes stacked in the laundry room.
I’m starting to realize it’s going to be over. I know, I know, a child will always need their parents, but let’s be honest: They take another step away from us each day. That makes me feel less and less father-ish. That makes me feel more and more sad.
To think there was a time when I never even considered becoming a dad. I mean, why would I have considered it? Our society doesn't present fatherhood as something to aspire to. For little girls playing with dolls and pushing pink strollers, Mom is a superhero. Little boys outsource heroism to make-believe men from Krypton and Gotham City. I've never seen a Cliff Huxtable action figure.
Now here I am, staring nostalgically at little spoons. Will we ever pack them up? Will we ever put those burp clothes to use, maybe to wipe up a spill or buff the car? Probably not. As a result, our home has become a Planet Hollywood for our kids. Oooh, look--Jackson’s first Easter outfit. Take a picture of me with it!
Our babies are not like others in nature. Moments after a calf or a colt is born, it forces itself upright, balancing precariously on spindly legs. Then boom--it's off. Our babies need us and need us and need us, and then they don’t. That’s what makes this slow but sure separation hard to grasp. With each passing day, our kids become less cuddly, more independent. Their hugs evolve from full-body assaults to casually leaning in with a shoulder. As they grow, the spoons and burp clothes are what they leave behind, so it’s what we hold close. Granted, it’s easier and more efficient to hoard memories than stuff. The problem is memories fade. Non-biodegradable plastic doesn’t.
Sadly, one day all the stuff will go, as will Jackson and Tanner. Goodnight spoon. Goodnight high chair. Goodnight babies everywhere.