Moving on, moving out

By Debbie Carini

There are so many milestones in the lives of children: first word, first steps, first day of school—and then, before you know it, they are piloting the family car onto the freeway (and, if you draw the short straw, you are the parent clutching the arm rests on the passenger seat, yelling “merge, merge,” as a giant Winnebago bears down on your small, suddenly very vulnerable-seeming compact). 

You can mark time in graduations: preschool, when they don mortarboards crafted from manila file folders; grammar school, where they say goodbye to recess; junior high, where you say hello to gray hair as you ponder the fraught-filled teen years to come; high school when they take their first steps into adulthood and master incredibly difficult subjects like algebra and chemistry, and, finally, if your child chooses, college, where at the end of the ceremony, you briefly, foolishly imagine, “Well, that’s it!”

And then, just as you are boxing up the dog-eared report cards and varsity letters, he or she turns up in your house again, reclaiming a bedroom that you (unwisely) haven’t quite converted into the craft-room fast enough. She (because this is a story about my daughter) comes back bearing all the detritus of a nomadic, post-collegiate life—piles of clothing, random books and papers, shoes and boots and various tokens of four years of study and travel.

In time, though, she lands a real job all the way across the country (with benefits and a travel allowance). There is much celebrating and, suddenly, the craft room comes into focus again (maybe I’ll finally make that snowman family out of unmated, discarded tube socks I’ve been hoarding).

Since this is her “real” life, it is suggested that maybe this is a good time to go through the 22 years of accumulation and make some difficult choices. Things need to move with her, be boxed up for future relocation or submitted to one of two bags: Goodwill or the garbage.

My daughter has always had a little of the slovenly Oscar Madison in her, dropping clothes wherever, scattering papers about and leaving lumps of Play-Doh and, later, makeup here and there. She was a smart girl though, and I defended her messy ways as the flotsam and jetsam of a “beautiful mind”—one that understood calculus and learned Hebrew and French. I even seemed to be backed by science: in a study in Psychological Science, Kathleen Vohs, PhD, of the University Of Minnesota Carlson School Of Management, found that working in a messy room seems to help youngsters try new things and come up with creative ideas.

During our clean up that filled up two 13-gallon plastic bags, we found, among other things: pages of “Hello Kitty” stickers, homework assignments dating back to the 1990s, a bright red flower-bedecked velvet headband, and scary-looking calculators with buttons for things like DRG and PRB, pi and x squared (good Lord, I thought as I slipped them into the Goodwill sack, I won’t be using these to balance my checkbook).

In the end, though, I did reach back into the bag for the velvet headband with the giant red rose. I decided to hang onto it and wear it when I want to feel close to my spirited, fashionable, soon-to-be-faraway girl… or, for when I just want to scare people at the front door.



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