What Memories Are Made Of
A Pack Rat's Nest
Before I had kids I was a pack rat. This is a genetic trait. My mother's attic contains more stuff by both weight and volume than her actual house does, and you should see her house. Suffice it to say, if you want to know how a troubled marriage was saved in the July 1984 issue of Ladies' Home Journal, you might want to check my mother's coffee table, which contains several cubic yards of old magazines.
Not that I'm complaining. I inherited the impulse to hang on to useless bits of flotsam, even though I myself didn't grow up on a struggling farm during the Great Depression or endure the privations of world war. Still, in my own attic you could find every note that was ever passed to me in the eighth grade, a large box containing every article I ever wrote for a student newspaper, and every poem I inflicted on a school literary magazine. And the wedding/honeymoon/school-teacher detritus from my pre-parenthood years? That stuff has its own attic wing.
The thing is, I don't save every letter and every birthday card and every draft of every poem anymore. That all stopped when I had children. Specifically, it stopped when I was pregnant with Joe, my third child. One day in the middle of my last trimester I hauled my heft up the attic ladder while I still had a prayer of fitting through the opening. When I had all the baby equipment spread out and saw how much more gear I needed to squeeze into my smallish house -- crib, changing table, rocking chair, baby clothes, about 3,000 stuffed animals -- something in me snapped. Unable to see my own feet, I was already taking my life in my hands whenever one of my existing kids woke up crying at night and I had to navigate around so many Lego and Tinkertoy obstacles in the dark. What was it going to be like in this pack rat's nest with another person's belongings spilling onto our floors?
Since then, whenever I find something that in the old days I would have shoved into the attic -- outgrown clothes and toys, unwelcome gifts -- I save it for the first charity that calls asking for donations. Twice a year, when the kids are at school, I go through their closets and throw out every Happy Meal toy and anything missing a wheel or an arm. Much artwork that another mom would hang on the refrigerator I look at, praise lavishly and then -- when the artist is asleep, sneak into the recycling bin.