There is a saying from Søren Kierkegaard which reads: “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.” I lived that quote last night.
At our house, trash day is Friday. That means that, as part of the girls’ chores on Thursday, they are expected to empty all of the trash barrels in the house, put new liners in the barrels, and rid the house of any recycling that is lying around. By the time the girls said their good nights, the recycling had been brought out to the curb and the rest of the trash sat in an open bag on the kitchen floor, awaiting any last minute refuse before we brought the bag out to its receptacle in the morning.
Much later, as I was on my way to bed with a few fistfuls of my own trash, I opened the bag and caught sight of some of the contents. Cast aside were numerous things from my oldest daughter’s bedroom—plaques, cherished items her sister had gifted to her (one, a canvas with a hand-drawn basketball which was lovingly decorated with Brenna’s name and the saying “#1 Basketball Player”), art she had made with her own capable and creative hands, motivational quotes and sayings—some of which I know were guideposts for helping her through tough times, and projects she had completed during some of my Self Esteem Through Art camps last summer. I knew she had cleaned her room earlier in the week, but I hadn’t realized the extent of her purge.
In that moment, my first instinct was to pull everything out of the trash, chastise her for throwing away these treasured possessions, and require that she keep them as part of her bedroom landscape. I stood incredulous that she would part with these mementos and pieces of her soul. But, as I stood frozen and a few more seconds ticked off of the clock, I was transported back to a time when this very daughter was in pre-school…..
She was 4. Each day, paper piles were coming home in droves. They covered the kitchen counters, littered the dining room table, were pinned up on the refrigerator, and found their way into my bedroom. I cannot confirm nor deny whether or not they multiplied at night while we slept, but it sure felt that way. Every little milestone was documented lovingly by her caretakers and teachers; every fingerprint immortalized on its cardstock background with colorful tempura paint, footprints made into butterflies, flowers made out of tissue paper, pinch pots made of clay, and images made with dried macaroni. Where I loved every single thing my daughter made and bestowed upon me at the end of each day, I knew I would not be able to keep it all. So, I began to purge. I “kept the best and threw out the rest.” I kept a few of the earliest samples of her handwriting and just a few of her early drawings—where the people resembled jelly beans with sticks for legs—and then the rest found their way to the trash. Her “bulkier projects” like the pinch pots were kept on display for a while, photographed for posterity, and then tossed.
One evening, she was throwing something away and staring back at her from inside the garbage pail were countless pieces of her artwork. Coincidentally, this also occurred on a Thursday. Trash day was Friday. I was trying to clean and purge without being discovered. I was curating her art without permission.
But, she uncovered my secret, barely concealed beneath a few napkins. And I will never forget how those big brown eyes looked up at me, brimming with tears of disappointment and pain, as she tried to choke out the words, “why…would…you…throw…away…all…of…my…beautiful…paintings…Momma?”
I remembered how I told her that where I loved ALL of her artwork, I only wanted to keep the best pieces. I shared that I didn’t need to keep every single piece of paper in the house because it would forever be in my heart. And then, because I felt the need to validate my decision and explain myself thoroughly, I showed her the newly purchased, clear Rubbermaid bin where I kept the select treasures which “made the cut.” I wanted her to know that pieces of her still existed in tangible form. That I hadn’t discarded ALL of her treasures. That she mattered.
I comforted her that night, and I rationalized with her, and I thought she had put both our conversation and her disappointment behind her. But, she began regularly perusing the trash for her projects. And whenever she found one, she would express her sorrow and mourn the loss of her treasures. It became such a regular occurrence that Bob and I, when alone, affectionately began to call her “the little trash picker.”
Well, last night I’m pretty sure I felt just like that little trash picker did nine years ago. The tables were turned and I caught her curating without my permission. The shock and sorrow of finding those treasures in the trash was followed up with a resounding “WHY?” Why would she throw all of these things away? Why now? Does that mean none of this is important to her? Does it mean she doesn’t love us or appreciate the gifts and the memories? How come she no longer wants and/or needs the quotes or the affirmations or the lovingly created artwork?
As I fleetingly thought these thoughts, I reached in and instinctually began pulling the items out one by one. The canvas from her sister, the old album that she transformed into a plaque that read “I Totally Rock.” But, as the memory of the little trash picker took hold, I placed the items back in the bag one by one and took one step, then two steps, away from the trash bag.
She is growing up. And, just like me, she chose to “keep the best and throw out the rest.” She continues to be one of my greatest teachers and she knows something I didn’t at her age: that once something teaches you what you need to learn, it’s okay to let it go. In her eyes, these possessions served their purpose and it was time to release them. Whether she realizes it or not, in releasing them, she is making room for new things to enter her life. It is not my place to insist that she clutter her life, her heart, or her room with things that no longer belong. She, and she alone, should decide what makes the cut and for how long. She is the keeper of her own little Rubbermaid bin and the curator of her own life.
I think, as parents, it is sometimes difficult to let our children curate their own “collections” of possessions, friends, or interests without getting in their way or trying to influence their decisions. But letting go, in all forms, takes tremendous courage and I am so incredibly proud of my daughter for not only realizing it, but also for reminding me of it.
Thanks for stopping by today.