On Motherhood, Grief and Pottery Barn Chairs

parenting

It started out as a typical Saturday. Hurricane Mommy was whipping through the house on a de-cluttering rampage while the other three humans that I live with were sheltering in place with their technology of choice. Even the cat was hiding. I mean, let’s be real here. There is nothing more powerful than a woman armed with a black trash bag and an empty plastic storage bin from Target. Am I right?

I was making good progress and feeling pretty high on life. My donation pile and trash pile were both overflowing and I was just about to call it a day.

And then I saw them.

 Two stuffed toddler chairs with my son’s names embroidered onto the backs. One denim blue and one fire-engine red. Both were well-worn and terribly misshapen, but it was abundantly clear that they had been well-loved. The chairs sat next to each other at the foot of my 12-year old’s bed, next to the gaming chairs that they got for Christmas. I had purchased them from Pottery Barn many, many moons ago and I still remember how excited I was at the time. After a long journey trying to get pregnant, and month after month about dreaming of becoming a mommy, I relished all of those early purchases with extra fervor. The paint color for the nursery, the perfect stroller, and yes, the plush, personalized chair from the overpriced store at the mall. The chairs were our spot to drink warm milk and read books before bedtime. The place to cuddle up and watch cartoons in the morning. We dragged them from room to room and up and down the stairs many times. They were part of the family. Well, as much as a piece of furniture could be, that is.

A thought skittered across my mind that I wasn’t quite ready for. Had the time come to add them to the trash pile? As quickly as the idea crept in, my heart revolted, and I pushed it away. Throwing the chairs out would be like tossing a favorite stuffed lovey or a beloved blankie. Decisions as monumental as these are not to be taken lightly. I would need time to overthink about it. A few weeks, at least. Maybe months.

Isn’t it fascinating how we humans attribute such strong emotional value to material objects? We do it all of the time actually. Whether it’s a special piece of jewelry from a loved one or a treasured book that impacted us in a memorable way, we’re drawn in and become attached. Holding onto these familiar things brings us a comforting sense of security. They reassure us that no matter how chaotic life becomes, there is something that can always be relied upon to bring joy, no matter what. They’re like comfort food for the mind and nourishment for the soul.

When you become a parent, special objects become inextricably linked to the stages of development that a child passes through. They become little treasured symbols of childhood. I think we latch onto them so strongly as a means of making time stand still. The cute outfit they wore home from the hospital. The beloved blankie. The stuffed animal lovey that never left their side. The blue Thomas train that went everywhere with your child for a year or two. When children outgrow these things, it takes us aback. Just when they’re ready to part with them, oftentimes we, as parents, are not.

I remember when my older son told me that he didn’t want to sleep with the two stuffed animals that he took to bed with him for the past 6 years, I didn’t take it well. I just wasn’t ready for him to move onto the next stage. I was pained by the reality that he was growing up and was not a little boy anymore. It threw me for a loop. Looking back on it now, I have a name for the intense feeling that gripped me. It was grief.

You see, it’s completely appropriate for our babies to outgrow the objects that used to be so incredibly important in their lives. It’s a signal of positive growth. An indicator that they’re becoming more independent. That they are ready to turn the page and start a new chapter. The problem is . . . we’re not.

When a child moves from one stage to the next, it reminds us of the passage of time. It forces us to face the harsh reality that time is ticking. And our babies are not ours to keep. The universe lets us borrow them for a few precious years and then we must send them on their way, out into the world to make their mark. The passing days feel like particles of sand slipping through an hourglass. And there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. The realization can quite literally take one’s breath away.

This is how it was with the Pottery Barn chairs on that Saturday morning. Grief snuck up on me, swallowed me whole, and I was utterly unprepared for it. One second I was a whirlwind of productivity, and the next, I was sitting in Luke’s tiny red chair, looking at old photos and scrolling through years of online albums on Shutterfly. I wasn’t even thinking consciously about what I was doing. I was on autopilot mode and simply along for the ride.

Reflecting back on it, I know exactly what I was doing . . . I was mourning. In order to summon the courage to move forward, I first had to press rewind. I needed to travel back in time to revisit the sweetness of the past. To remember the chubby cheeks and the soft, blonde hair and the larger than life smiles at the Batman birthday parties. I needed to feel all of it again, to sear as many details in my brain as I could. I needed to pull the memories of my babies closer because those same babies were getting one step closer to leaving me. One day at a time. One birthday at a time. One chair at a time. And the truth was heart-wrenching.

Hurricane Mommy was no longer a fierce Category 5 storm. Nope, she had been downgraded to a sloppy drizzle, gripping a box of tissues and a pile of baby books.

Kenny snapped me out of it when he walked into his room and wondered what the heck I was doing and why I was teary-eyed. I shared that I thought it was time to throw the chairs away. He didn’t even flinch. He accurately replied, “That’s fine. We really don’t use them anymore.” Just like that. There was no emotion. Easy peasy. He was totally ready to move on.

I looked at the two chairs again. This time with a more rational eye. I knew what I had to do.

Before placing them out on the curb, I snapped a final picture. I even made the boys sit in them one last time. Of course, they grumbled and complained about it. But I knew that one day I would be looking back upon THIS moment and mourning its passing. And I would want a piece of it to hold onto.

Perhaps it will hit me on the eve of their high school graduation, or maybe even on their wedding day. I will look back on this picture and so many others and be reminded of how precious and temporary it all was. Then grief will come, as it always does. And time will march on, as it always does. And the dance will continue, joyfully and painfully. Gliding backward for a beat, then pushing forward. Backward, forward. Over and over again. The beautiful dance of motherhood. With so, so much love guiding each step.

In the meantime, I’ll just be over here all weepy and wistful, but fully aware. I’ll be savoring the time I’ve been gifted with these two sweet boys and their growing legs and their changing faces and their tweenage attitudes. Two brothers with a built-in best friend and big, bright futures ahead of them. I get to have a front-row seat for all of it for a few more years. And you better believe I’ll be feeling incredibly grateful for every. single. fleeting. second.

PS- Check on your friends with high school seniors. They are not okay❤️💙

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