Sunday, May 13, 2012

The boundaries of the heart

I expected the weight of sole parenthood to feel like a burden. But it didn't. It doesn't.

What I didn't realize was just how quickly a situation that would have seemed insurmountable before can became a new normal.

When I was married, there was always a push/pull over who would get up and do some mundane parenting chore – bathe the kids, change a diaper, enforce a time out. Neither of us had family anywhere nearby. It was just us, with the kids, all the time. It felt like so much.

Now it's just me. And it's okay. One of those conundrums of life.

There is a freshness to starting over, an infusion of hope that can smooth out the rough edges of loss. After the end of everything, there was a pause, and then I began to think in terms of beginnings. I considered what it would be like to be married again, to be a family again. I still want to get it right.

This weekend our subdivision had a neighborhood garage sale. It was an opportunity to lighten my load, so I took part. I went through every closet in our house and even ventured down to that motherload of stuff-accumulation, the basement.

Ten plastic tubs full of clothes to give away. Books and books and baby toys. Why had I held onto all that?

I've lived in this house for ten years and it always felt like a waystation. It still does. Something inside us always knows where we should or shouldn't be. I've lived here all this time, poised to go.

My son agreed to sell his toy tool bench to earn money to buy Legos. My daughter sold some naked Barbies for a dollar each. They set up a lemonade stand. 

I watched them carefully arrange their wares, pausing to tuck a strand of hair behind an ear or wrap a coat a bit tighter in the morning chill.

Children. You love them to the very boundaries of your heart. And then the next day you love them right over the edge.

I rigged up a bar to hang some of the clothes I was selling. Others I put out on blankets on the ground. One by one I opened up the boxes and emptied the contents.

I carried one of the tubs out to the driveway and took off the lid. It was full of my son's baby clothes. Pale blue bodysuits and onesies in little boy patterns. I still had baby clothes? I thought I had given them away long ago.

I stared at the box for a moment. I picked up a pair of overalls with a tiger on the front. I was completely unprepared for the emotion that welled up in me.

After Daniel became a toddler, I began getting rid of all the baby equipment and clothes. We were both pretty clear that we didn't want more children. I had what I had always wanted. Two kids, a boy and a girl. Completion.

I'm not sure when it was that the thought of another child crept into my heart. It entered so slyly. I'm too old to be thinking of more children. So that thought, it just sat there on the edge of my consciousness. I was hardly even aware of it. Until I opened that box.

I set the clothes out on a blanket, arranging them in neat piles, with the outfits most likely to sell front and center. The fine art of yard sale merchandizing. I smoothed out the corners of the blanket, neatened each pile.

Cars began to arrive. Strangers walked up the driveway. Hands sifted through our belongings. I sold three skirts, a framed print, a princess costume. Anna sold two Barbies. I watched the blanket full of baby clothes.

People came and went. At the end of the day we made almost two hundred dollars. Not much, but something. Everything that didn't sell, I began putting in bags to take to the local women's shelter.

I left the baby clothes until last. I began sorting through them and putting the clothes into a bag. But some of them, the ones I loved most, I held out.

I put them in a small box and placed the box in the top of a closet, tucked back in the corner. You hardly know it's there.

We went out to dinner to celebrate our sales, then I took them to Target and let them spend a portion of the earnings on a new toy each. Dan bought a Lego ambulance. Anna a locking journal. We came home and Dan set to work on his Lego. Anna and I played Yahtzee until it was time to go to bed.

I went to sleep that night in a house that was lighter. The air felt lighter. It was as if I could feel the empty spaces in the basement below. It felt like hope. That sigh of relief as you leave the confessional.

And that box. I could feel it too. Tucked away back there, in the corner. When I leave this place, I will take it with me.

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