I was sitting on the floor of the playroom sorting memories. I was holding a garbage bag and an old doll from the kids’ show Shimmer and Shine when I broke. The tears came fast and furious, streaming down my face and onto the neck of my shirt as I told myself to throw the doll out.
It was the blue-haired doll, the one my son called “Shaa,” back when he started stealing it from his older sister when he was about a year old. The doll’s face was scuffed, a smudge of paint missing from an eye, a leg ripped off and lost, its hair a matted nest of blue. And yet, just holding it in my hands was enough to bring back a wave of memories. Him clutching it in his stroller at preschool drop-off for his big sister. He and his sister building houses for Shaa out of Magna-Tiles. My parents running to Walmart the afternoon we lost the original Shaa because my son couldn’t sleep without it.
Was I really supposed to throw it away?
For years I have watched our town form an amazing online share site where moms give away everything from baby gear to toys and clothing. Many of my friends are regular posters, ensuring their houses stay clutter-free while sharing their unneeded items with others. I love the site and am often blown away by the generosity of my neighbors. And yet, I have posted to it myself only a few times.
Because every time I go to give away a baby swing or toy or book, it reminds me that another phase of childhood has ended.
Parenting is all about those little goodbyes. The infant clothes they wear for only two weeks. The baby tub that once seemed too big, now used as a toy for dolls. The first days of school, of drop-off playdates, of board books that make way for picture books and easy readers and chapter books. Everywhere I look, I see reminders of the past, of items loved and cherished by a younger version of my children.
Often my kids look straight through these items, concerned not with their babyhood but the challenges they are working on today. It is me who is their memory keeper, the one who tucks away the little moments for safekeeping, who saves those special outfits and toys I know they’ll ask about when they’re grown. But not everything can be kept, and separating the memories from the objects has been challenging, causing me to hang onto broken dolls and ripped board games, trucks with sand in the wheels, and princess gowns worn through the seams.
Maybe my youngest will like it, I have often said to justify my hoarding. But as time has moved on, it has become clear that my youngest isn’t a fan of trucks. Or princess gowns. Or Shimmer and Shine. And so, with the kids at school, I was trying to sift through the piles of memories, allowing myself to relive each moment as I considered the fate of each toy – the donation bin, the share site, the trash. A few special toys I saved for the attic.
In the end, Shaa didn’t make the cut. While it hurt to throw her away, I rested easy, knowing she would live on through pictures and memories. Even without the doll, that piece of my son’s childhood will not be lost. And it was with that realization that I found myself able to move forward and keep sorting.
That afternoon when my kids returned from school, I found myself happy that I did. Because instead of being upset at all they’d lost, they were ecstatic to have more space for what was important to them now. Room for cartwheels and gymnastics practice, Batman figures, and matchbox cars. And I was at peace knowing we could help other children make their own memories with the toys we had outgrown.
And so that night, while tucking in my oldest, I asked if she was ready for me to sort through her room, too. Over the past eight years, it has become cluttered with mountains of dolls that she rarely plays with anymore. I thought she might enjoy more space for her new interests, just as she had in the playroom. But right away, I could see she was hesitant.
“We don’t have to throw them out or even give them away,” I said. “Just put them away for safekeeping. Maybe the attic?”
She brought her hand to her chin, then shook her head. “Even if I don’t play with them, I like having them here with me. Do you think I still can keep them around?” she asked.
Holding her hand, I smiled. “Of course,” I said. “You can keep them as long as you like.”
Then I kissed her forehead and retreated to my room, thankful she wanted to hold onto her childhood for just a little longer.
Jackie Nastri Bardenwerper lives in Fairfield, CT with her husband and three children, ages 8, 5, and 3. She is the author of several novels that encourage tween and teen girls to listen to their inner voice, from saving the family fishing business in On the Line to following a passion for crafting in Salted Caramel Dreams and exposing a friend’s hurtful social media platform in Populatti. She is currently working on a new novel that follows four women struggling to balance their ambitions with new motherhood. She also shares her own motherhood experiences on her Instagram @jnbwrite. When not writing, you can find Jackie and her family enjoying Fairfield’s beautiful coastline, where they love fishing, swimming, and sailing.