Sometimes I feel like I’m carrying the broom and shovel at the end of a parade. Because unlike seeing Santa Claus or a police car, you know it’s time to pick up your lawn chair and go home when the person comes by to clean up after the horses.
I don't own horses, but I do have four children spaced 12 years apart, so the need for diapers and booster chairs has been spread over more than a decade. I look at friends who, for example, have two children spaced two years apart and feel a little envious that those fussy stages of life passed more quickly for them. Naptime came and went.
However, the long wait does give me perspective to celebrate in a way that maybe not everyone appreciates. Taking all the sippy cups out of the kitchen cabinets was huge. Next in my sights: the stool kicking around on the kitchen floor. It’ll be a few more years, though, before the 8-year-old can reach anything without it.
Faster to go might be hundreds of picture books. With my youngest being an emerging independent reader, I'll soon face the choice of whether to keep them. How many books will have risen to the top of the pile as family favorites? How long will I be expected to keep them, if at all? Maybe I'm the one who is attached, and not the children.
With boys 12 years apart, years ago, I decided not to keep clothes from one to the next. Sure, those size 12 jeans could come in handy — in 12 years, but that's a long time to keep stuff in boxes that the kid might decide he doesn't like anyway.
Lots of toys are on my radar, anything gathering dust, anything not really age-appropriate for anyone in the house. Some of them could be sold online, though, and that always slows things down, that “we could get money for this” mentality that is the absolute logjam of reducing clutter.
Some things, I know I’ll keep, like my Ergo backpack baby carrier. It’s my favorite baby carrier, and I had it only for kid No. 4, so I feel like it deserves more use. I have this image of a strong, fit elderly woman who is also me strapping that pack on and carrying grandbabies around on joyful, flower-scented hikes. Do I go hiking now? No. Have I ever? Not so much. But it’s a dream I’m not willing to give up on, and getting rid of that baby carrier would make too much of a statement. It would drag me down to reality a little too much. And I can just walk around my yard with a baby, too. We’ll be fine.
A new change to our family isn’t sweeping up but rather plowing a new path. My oldest, who is 20 and sharing a bedroom this summer with his little brother, said he’s not coming home again once college starts back up. He has an apartment with friends and plans to live there, including school breaks and next summer.
I’ll see soon how much stuff he’ll leave behind. I’d like to get a realistic view on the issue and get rid of anything he won’t want later. The alternative plan is for me to store it for years, and then get rid of it. That’s probably the popular route, but I do enjoy taking the path less traveled.
How long does he have to be gone for me to claim his space for something else? Is there a probationary period where I’m supposed to pretend he might move back in? Am I supposed to keep his bed?
There are sentimental bits to my character. A small part of me is sad to see the kids growing up and moving on. But that is far outweighed by how proud I am of them, how I celebrate their independence and autonomy.
I’ve gone from wiping their noses and cutting their grapes in half to having them fix my computer. I’m really enjoying this new phase — and the less stuff I need to live in it.
Beverly Godfrey is features editor of the Duluth News Tribune. She fully supports her kids’ choices, even if they don’t want to have children of their own. Still, that baby carrier is at the ready. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.